While the Asteroids and the Eagles didn’t win a single game at their tournament last weekend, as far as their coaches and managers are concerned, the under-11 girls and under-nine boys Bowen Football Club teams deserved gold stars.
It was just before 2 p.m. Saturday afternoon. The two Bowen teams were in the midst of the Whitecaps Adidas Cup, their season-capping tournament at Surrey’s Newton Athletic Park, alongside a few hundred other youth, when a gun scare sent players and spectators fleeing.
Though the RCMP later discovered the weapon to be imitation, the fear was real.
The girls team was mid-soccer game when the panic began.
Jean Coker, co-manager of the Asteroids, said she heard a commotion and someone yelled clear the field.
Coker helped usher the eight, nine and ten-year-olds off the field and they started running.
“We had one player who was injured. She couldn’t run. So one of our coaches ran back and threw her on his back,” said Coker.
“One of our coaches was on crutches and so she was trying to run on crutches,” she said.
Coker said that it wasn’t clear at that point what was happening but the adults’ primary concern was getting the children to safety. She said that they ran a couple of blocks and hid the kids behind a fence, where they did a head count and ensured that the girls who weren’t with the team were safe.
“The girls, of course, were very upset. There was there was lots of fiction being shouted,” said Coker. “So we just really kept to the facts with the kids, that we didn’t know what was happening, that it was best to be safe.”
Meanwhile, the seven and eight-year-old boys were on a break. Most were at a playground. The Eagles coach, Deidre Farah, said she was sitting on a bench with her mother when she saw a swarm of people running, at least one of them talking about a gun. Unlike the Asteroids, most Eagles players were with their parents and left with their parents, said Farah.
But Farah wasn’t with her own children. Her kids were with Farah’s husband in the food truck area, right where the crowd ran through. In the melee, the three were separated, said Farah. Though the youngest soon reunited with his father, the older boy got lost in the crowd.
“My older son, we just, over spring break taught him my husband’s cell number and he had it memorized.” said Farah. She said that another coach spotted her son running with his friend, offered help, and her son was able to call her husband.
“It was very frightening but the kids were amazing,” she said.
Police cleared the field and news quickly spread online and on the radio that there was no risk to the public. While some games started back up at the field, the Bowen teams were done for the day.
Both teams returned to their hotels and relaxed and discussed the day’s scare.
The next morning, the teams returned to the field, which had increased security and police presence.
Though three Asteroids girls were unsure about playing, they wanted to return to Newton and support their teammates. In the end, they all took to the field.
“And our girls played amazing,” said Coker. “They, they just really came together as a team.
“They played tougher than they’ve ever played before. They played harder. They played smarter. Just passing, they communicated. They played better.
“Even though it was really tricky, and they didn’t win the games, they have so much to be proud of about the tournament.
“I feel that going back there for them was very scary. But I think that they finished their season feeling a bit in control. That they had come back to somewhere where they had had the biggest fright of their life.”
Coker said that while she didn’t wish the experience on anyone, it brought the girls closer together. She said that she expects to see many players return when the Asteroids reconvene in the fall.
Sunday marked the end of the Eagles’ first tournament.
“They did really well, really well, under the circumstances,” said Farah. “They were just there to play and have fun. And we weren’t necessarily there to win. We were there for the experience of it.
“We were able to play again and just focus on fun.”
Farah said that Saturday was stressful for youth and parents alike but it gave her new perspective.
Students returned to school from spring break Monday. As Farah was making her son’s lunches Saturday’s events were running through her mind.
“And I was dropping them off at the bus [Monday] morning, the greatest thing was that the bus driver was one of the parents that was there. His son’s on the same team as my kids. And it was just like, you know, it’s safe,” she said.
Surrey RCMP said in a news release that a male was arrested Saturday for various offences related to the incident and released on a promise to appear. Charges have not been laid and the investigation is ongoing.
While the Asteroids and Eagles are done for the season, Bowen FC’s Soccer Academy starts up soon.