Long before the Terry Wilson Cup became a coveted grail for Catholic and Christian elementary school soccer teams, Vanderhoof used to be the centre of the soccer universe for northern B.C. teams.
In 2002, St. Joseph's Catholic elementary school in Vanderhoof took over organizing an annual soccer tournament originally hosted by Immaculate Conception in Prince George at O'Grady Catholic high school. The scene shifted to Vanderhoof after O'Grady closed in 2001 and kids flocked to the tournament every year. But when St. Joseph's closed in June 2008 due to declining enrollment, an annual soccer tradition was put on hold.
The Terry Wilson Cup tournament revived that spirit in 2011, but until this year, no Vanderhoof teams were involved. The Northside Northstars are about to end the drought. They are among 20 teams that will gather at Rotary Soccer Field on Friday, May 27 for the sixth annual event.
"Since the Terry Wilson tournament started we've never had a team from Vanderhoof," said Donncha O'Callaghan, the principal at Immaculate Conception and a longtime friend of Wilson's. "Northside approached us and said they would love to get involved and Williams Lake was not able to come this year, so that opened up a spot."
Wilson died of brain cancer at age 47, and school officials at Immaculate Conception and local soccer builders Shafeed Rahman, Vince Buljevic and Terry Murphy decided to revive the Vanderhoof tournament as a way of remembering his contributions to the game.
Wilson came to Prince George from Northern Ireland in 1986 to teach at Prince George College. He played in the North Cariboo Senior Soccer League and developed a reputation as a dedicated youth soccer coach who emphasized sportsmanship and encouraged kids of all abilities to play. Buljevic donated the trophy, originally designed 28 years ago for the Blackburn Cup indoor tournament.
This year's lineup includes three Prince George Catholic schools - Immaculate Conception, St. Mary's, and Sacred Heart - as well as teams from Vanderhoof, Quesnel, Prince Rupert, Terrace, Kitimat and Dawson Creek.
"The word is getting out about this," said O'Callaghan. "For a lot of these kids, this is their European championship, their World Cup. They see teams coming in from Prince Rupert and Dawson Creek and they figure it's got to be big. There's a huge energy that comes from all these kids coming in from all over and a sense of occasion about it."
O'Callaghan's school annually hosts the pre-tournament dinner and youth retreat activities the night before, then the out-of-town players sleep overnight in school gyms at Immaculate Conception, Sacred Heart and St. Mary's.
"The supper helps the kids connect with each other," said O'Callaghan. "We want it to be about more than just soccer, we want them to have a sense of community as well."
Several teams build trips to the city around the tournament and visit local attractions like The Exploration Place museum, the Aquatic Centre and Barkerville.
Each team plays three round-robin games. The five group winners will then advance to the 'A' group along with the three best second-place teams in a single-elimination tournament to determine the champion.
Immaculate Conception won the 2015 tournament title. The previous Terry Wilson Cup winners were: 2014 - Annunciation (Prince Rupert); 2013 - Veritas (Terrace); 2012 - St. Mary's (Prince George); 2011 - St. Ann's (Quesnel).