How a Toronto high school soccer team plans to help Attawapiskat

Can a passionate team of Toronto high school soccer players connect with and inspire Attawapiskat’s youth? The team’s coach thinks so.

'We use soccer as an outlet … we would like to give that opportunity to Attawapiskat,' player says

The Bishop Marrocco/Thomas Merton Catholic Secondary School Royals could be heading to Attawapiskat this summer to host a soccer camp. (CBC)

One of Toronto's top high school soccer teams is hoping to play a road game this summer — all the way in Attawapiskat.

The Bishop Marrocco/Thomas Merton Catholic Secondary School Royals decided to help after hearing about a series of attempted suicides in the remote northern Ontario community this spring.

The First Nation, on James Bay, declared a state of emergency after 11 of its members tried to commit suicide in one weekend and 28 tried to do so in the month of March. There have been at least 50 suicide attempts this year, community representatives say.

Soccer is not just a game, it's a life for some of these kids.- Paulo Pereira, Royals coach

The Royals are hoping soccer — the beautiful game, as many around the world call it — can help the community heal.

"We use soccer as an outlet," Royals' player Tony Lima told CBC News.

Lima said playing soccer is what motivates many of his teammates to do well in school and stay on the right track.

"We would like to give that opportunity to Attawapiskat," he said. 

Paulo Pereira, the team's coach, said his players — including some who have never travelled outside the city — volunteered to go to Attawapiskat where they'll host a week-long training camp in June. At night, they plan to sleep in the same gym where they'll be playing. The team doesn't mind. 

An 8-year-old girl plays in the Attawapiskat First Nation. A Toronto soccer team is hoping the community will pick up soccer this summer. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

"Soccer is not just a game, it's a life for some of these kids," Pereira said of his players.

The project's goal, which has been developed with Attawapiskat's recreation coordinator, is to lay out the basics of the sport and also teach some skills. The students will also be bringing some equipment, including uniforms, nets, balls, shoes and more.

Trip could be first of many

Pereira said he's hoping this will be the first of many trips to Attawapiskat, and that some young players from the community might be able to travel to Toronto in the future as well.

"We don't want to make this a one-way delivery … that's not the idea," Pereira said.

"The idea is to have an opportunity to learn as well and bring something back."

The coach said the trip is about more than sport. What he wants is for his players' passion for the game to rub off on the youth of Attawapiskat, who can then apply a similar passion toward whatever brings them happiness.

The team has created an online fundraiser seeking $25,000 to help pay for the flights up north, by far the largest cost associated with the trip, the coach says. If the Royals meet their goal, they'll head north in June.