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'Penny sales, movie nights': Coral Harbour team raises $70K to reach Yellowknife soccer tournament

The Coral Harbour, Nunavut, boys and girls youth soccer teams from Sakku school are returning home today with bronze and silver medals.

Youth soccer teams overcome financial hurdle and take medals in Yellowknife

Leonie Netser moves the ball downfield in the Yellowknife Junior Super Soccer tournament in Yellowknife. (Walter Strong/CBC)

The Coral Harbour, Nunavut, boys and girls youth soccer teams are returning home from Yellowknife this week with bronze and silver medals.

The boys went undefeated in five games of regular play and took bronze in semi-final action, while the girls went on to take silver in the finals on Sunday at the Junior Super Soccer tournament.

It was no small effort for the teams to make it to Yellowknife for the tournament, which brings in teams from across Nunavut, the Northwest Territories and Yukon.

The boys and girls teams each needed to raise approximately $35,000 to cover the cost of travel and other expenses from Coral Harbour to Yellowknife and back.

It was a community effort for the hamlet of about 900 people.

"We did penny sales, movie nights, bingos, pool tournaments, 50-50 draws," said Alyssa Whitney, the coach of the girls team. She said they raised the money in less than three months.

Moses Jr. Nakoolak celebrates after a goal scored against St. Patrick's high school. (Walter Strong/CBC)
"Nothing was funded," Whitney said. "We got a little bit of discount from the airline, but not much."

Airfare was almost double what it cost to attend the tournament last year after a code-sharing agreement between First Air and Canadian North came into effect.

'All they want to do is play soccer' 

The Coral Harbour teams were small but mighty. The beat out teams from larger communities with a deeper pool of youth to select from.

In Coral Harbour, soccer is big deal, said Whitney.

"They practice three times a week and they have an evening adult recreation league they can play in," Whitney said. "In pretty much every single gym class all they want to do is play soccer.

"Even in the summer they're always playing outside kicking the ball around. They pretty much play all of the time."

All that practice may explain cool heads on the boys team, when they turned around 4-0 deficit in a game against Yellowknife's St. Patrick's school and scored five goals in the last ten minutes to win the game.

Alyssa Whitney passes out orange slices to players at halftime. (Walter Strong/CBC)
 "It felt like they were winning gold," said Dayna Bruce, an assistant coach with the boys team. "We were all so excited."

But winning isn't the sole motivation for the trip to Yellowknife. Travelling away from a small, remote community like Coral Harbour can mean eye-opening experiences many take for granted.

"It was not just the soccer," Whitney said. "But the whole experience of being able to go bowling, swimming, seeing trees for the first time, the movies. Everything to them, not just the soccer, everything else was an added bonus they got to do and see."

Next year, Coral Harbour expects to be back at Super Soccer, but organizers hope to take some of the financial pressure off by starting to raise funds earlier. 

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