A sweltering August afternoon in Terrace is having its effect on the players of the Prince Rupert Football Club. Emotions are running high as they find themselves in tough against a talented Smithers side in the Riverboat Days Davis Cup.
One voice manages to have a calming effect among the squad however; that of the veteran of the side, Vern Barker.
At age 50, Barker is by far the oldest player on the team. But you would never know it as he flies around the field, calling out orders and encouragement while never failing to backtrack on defense.
“It’s a good day to be alive and a good day to be playing soccer,” Barker says.
It’s an attitude that has helped Barker from early on in life, as he faced growing up in a difficult home situation.
“It saved my life,” Barker said of the game. “I’ve been playing since I was eight. Growing up on a reservation a lot of stuff happens. But soccer is what kept me grounded, and it gives you an opportunity to stay clean.”
Despite excelling at the sport, Barker fell into a pattern of abuse and violence that he had been trying to avoid. After lengthy stretches in and out of jail, Barker was able to turn things around and began to attend Coast Mountain College, at the time named Northwest Community College, in 2010.
Barker has since made it his goal to help those at risk of heading down the same path he went down for a time, much of it through sport. In addition to his role with PRFC, Barker has been involved heavily with youth basketball in Prince Rupert, including coaching in the All Native Tournament. He hopes to be someone his players can rely on, and come to with any problems.
|Soccer has helped Barker cope with many difficult situations during his life. (The Northern View)
Shortly after arriving in Prince Rupert Barker decided he needed to reignite his old passion, helping Prince Rupert to form their own men’s soccer team.
“Rupert didn’t have a team when I first moved to Rupert, they were playing under Port Ed,” Barker said. “I grew up playing organized soccer, and they weren’t playing that organized. My goal was still to see organized soccer in Prince Rupert.”
“Because of our coach Rick Deforge, we’re getting there,” Barker said.
There were of course bumps in the road, but Barker credits a youth surge for helping to right the ship.
“We started off pretty strong, then we had a bad couple of years. Everybody got older,” Barker explained. “Then the youth movement came and now we have a lot of young guys and the team’s getting stronger.”
This is evidenced in the results, as PRFC are now considered contenders at any tournament they play in. Just last month the men finished in third place at the Haisla Annual Soccer Tournament in Kitimat.
|Barker hopes to be surveying the playing field for many more years to come. (Alex Kurial / The Northern View)
Barker is also quick to praise the effort level of his teammates, not only with their play on the field, but taking the time and money to travel to games around the northwest.
“It’s been pretty good, we get 13, 14, 15 guys to the tournaments, whereas there were times that we barely fielded a team when we went out of town,” Barker says. He of course notes though that home tournaments always result in a full 20 man squad.
Back in Terrace, PRFC has lost 1-0 on a penalty shot goal. Teammates retreat to the shade of the sideline tent and begin arguing over who is to blame, but any further drama is quickly quelled by Barker who is able to diffuse the war of words. He knows there is another game to be played in a few hours, and the infighting is helping no one.
His is a veteran presence and voice that the team values heavily. And they rebound to win that next game 5-0.
As for how long Barker plans to maintain his current role and pace with the team: “Until I can’t run,” he smiles in reply.
Alex Kurial | Sports Reporter
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