Players from the Bishop Marrocco/Thomas Merton Royals run a soccer camp in the northern community of Attawapiskat. The team is raising funds to head back north this summer to run another camp. Photo courtesy of Anthony Macedo

Toronto students ready for encore soccer camp in Attawapiskat

By 
  • May 18, 2017

Anthony Macedo is used to playing soccer with intensity, but nothing prepared the 18-year-old goalkeeper for the emotions that spilled out when his school’s club travelled to Attawapiskat last year.

“Honestly it was a really emotional time,” he said of the trip that turned a soccer camp into an inspirational experience for both the Toronto high schoolers and the First Nations community. “A lot of us were crying up there when we were leaving. We’d made so many great connections with these kids and it was a great experience for us.”

It was such a great experience that Macedo, along with his BMTM Royals teammates and coach, will once again make the more than 1,000-km journey from Bishop Marrocco/Thomas Merton Catholic Secondary School in Toronto to the remote northern Ontario community. The team is currently raising funds for the June 18-25 trip that will see them run soccer camps for elementary and high school students.

“While we were up there we ran camps in the mornings for the elementary kids and in the afternoons we do it for the high school,” he said.

“But it didn’t just stop there. After we’d go back to the community centre where we were staying, the kids would be knocking on our door until two in the morning because they wanted to play to soccer with us.”

For Macedo, the joy he saw on the faces of the Attawapiskat students was in stark contrast to their living conditions in a community accessible only by air and seasonal ice road.

“(When we arrived) it was really a shock because we’re used to city life here in Toronto and once you get out, like far out, you don’t even see dirt roads and things like that,” he said. “We just didn’t expect that. It was just really a big culture shock to us.”

soccer camp webToronto’s Bishop Marrocco/Thomas Merton Catholic Secondary School soccer team shares a meal with the community of Attawapiskat. (Photo courtesy of Anthony Macedo)

It was not that Macedo and his peers were unfamiliar with the Attawapiskat community prior to their trip. In fact, the initiative was prompted by the never-ending news articles about the living conditions in Attawapiskat and the impact it is having on youth who are turning to suicide as an escape at alarming rates.

Last year, in a six-week span there were 39 confirmed suicide attempts in Attawapiskat, about a dozen of which involved teenagers

“There was a lot of younger kids that were falling into it .... a lot of kids our age,” he said. “We just wanted to help out and try to put a smile on their face. (Soccer) gives them something to do, they can say to their friends let’s go to the park and play.”

To aid their efforts this year the team is looking to raise $30,000 which will be used to cover the cost of travel and purchase a variety of soccer equipment for the Attawapiskat players.

“When we attempted to implement this camp in 2016, the community support was simply overwhelming and we were able to raise just over $30,000 in less than a month,” said Paulo Pereira, head coach of the BMTM Royals. “This year we continue to count on (donor) support in order for us to be able to ease some of the pain that the youth of Attawapiskat experience. One hundred per cent of (the) donations will go completely towards the implementation of the program.”

To help reach their goal the team set up a Go Fund Me page, www.gofundme.com/attawapiskatsoccercamp.

Macedo said anyone wondering about the value of a week-long soccer camp for a community which struggles with the basics such as clean drinking water need only look to the children who participated last year.

“There was this one kid up there Eddy (and) he was I guess you could call a rebel,” he said. “But after we came up there and showed him the game and he was with us, he kept going to his teacher and saying ‘now I have to go to school and be there every day (because) I want to be on the soccer team, but if I don’t go to school then I cannot be on the team.’ ”

It’s because of kids like Eddy that Macedo, a Grade 12 student, hopes to return to Attawapiskat for the soccer camp next year even though he expects to graduate in June.

“I’m really hoping that my coaches, and I believe they will, allow me to come back into the school and maybe still come with them on the trip, (next year).... I really do love the experience and I really do want to keep going back.”

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