Young N.W.T. soccer player wants to make Norman Wells 'proud' after outpouring of support

Shamar Bennett, 17, has raised all the money he needs to travel to Yellowknife for soccer practices, thanks to support from Norman Wells and from across the North. The 17-year-old is the only player on the male soccer team representing Team NT at the Canada Summer Games who is from outside Yellowknife.

North-Wright Airways and Canadian North covered all airfares, says Shamar Bennett's mom

Shamar Bennett, 17, was selected for the male soccer team representing the N.W.T. at next year's Canada Summer Games. But the territory's soccer association doesn't cover individual expenses, so he started fundraising to cover the costs of travel to regular training camps in Yellowknife. (Rex Lagare)

Thanks to an outpouring of support from his community and from around the North, a young soccer player from Norman Wells, N.W.T. will be able to travel to Yellowknife for all his upcoming training camps. 

Shamar Bennett, 17, was the only player outside Yellowknife chosen to play on the male soccer team representing Team NT at the Canada Summer Games next year. But the dream opportunity came with a hefty price tag: he had to pay for travel and accommodations to attend monthly practices. 

"It feels so good, knowing that everything is all secured," Shamar Bennett told CBC News, after thanking his community on Facebook for helping him reach his fundraising goal.

"Now I just have to make everyone proud of me." 

Keisha Campbell, Bennett's mom, said North-Wright Airways and Canadian North made a "huge impact" by covering the cost of nearly all the airfare that was initially needed. A series of fundraisers and donations also raised more than $5,000, helping to cover accommodations. 

"It was just mind blowing, the support that was poured out," said Campbell.

"At first, you were looking at this mountain. And then the mountain becomes nothing. It's flat. There's no longer a mountain to climb," she said. 

The Northwest Territories Soccer Association (NWT Soccer) doesn't cover individual players' expenses. It's executive director, Lyric Sandhals, previously told CBC News the organization doesn't have enough funding to do so. 

Small community is 'big and strong, together'

Campbell said the initial plan was to cover six trips to Yellowknife for Bennett and a chaperone, and they had pegged the cost of each one — between airfare and accommodation — at nearly $2,500.

North-Wright Airways committed to covering all six of Bennett's return flights, and three for a chaperone, she said, while Canadian North committed to two flights — which they intended to use for a chaperone. 

But, a pair of camps in September and October were cancelled because of COVID-19. 

Bennett compares soccer in Jamaica, where he grew up, to hockey in Canada. But in Norman Wells, where he's lived the past two years, he's the only one that plays — making it 'pretty tough' to practice. (Submitted by Shamar Bennett)

Because they anticipated having to cover more accommodations, Campbell said they've raised more money than what was needed. The extra will be going into a newly set up sports fund at the Mackenzie Mountain School in Norman Wells, she said, which could be used for helping a future student that ends up in a similar situation as her son. 

Campbell noted donations from Yukon and Hay River, and said there were "no words" to describe the outpouring of support from Norman Wells and from across the North.

Bennett, however, is reminded of a saying from Jamaica, where he grew up. 

"[It] means even though we're so small, we're yet so big and strong together. So I guess that means even though Norman Wells is such a small community, we rally around each other in tough times when we need help, and we all succeed and cross the finish line at the end of the day." 

Bennett said he's "excited" about the opportunity to play soccer at the Canada Summer Games in August, and he looks forward to showing his community that they made the "right choice" by supporting him. 

"I've been putting in the work," he said. "I'm going to be in tip-top shape."