With no disrespect to the other seven teams, Smoky Lake was the natural winner of the sportsmanship and fair play award at the provincial under-18 girls’ Tier 4 rural soccer championship last weekend in Stettler.
Smoky Lake played through grief and in memory of fallen teammate Stefanie Dick, who died in a car crash Friday, the opening day of the tournament.
She was just 16.
Dick never made it to Stettler for the provincial championship. She had gone missing Friday, and her teammates didn’t learn of her death until after their 4-1 loss to Stettler midday Saturday.
“We played the rest of the tournament for Stefanie, regardless of the outcome,” said coach Casey Caron, who received word during that 11 a.m. game and waited until afterward to tell his players about the fatality.
“My heart sunk and I just couldn’t focus on that game anymore. The focus was on how much time is left. I wanted to go in a hole and cry. But I knew, as coach, I had to tell the girls. I broke down in tears as I tried to tell them what happened.”
Smoky Lake RCMP reported Saturday that an RCMP helicopter had located a deceased 16-year-old girl from Smoky Lake in her overturned pickup truck.
The vehicle had left the road and entered the White Earth Creek, about eight kilometres east of Smoky Lake, said Sgt. Steve Smith.
“The cause of the collision is still under investigation, but it is not believed to be suspicious or alcohol-related. Fatigue may have been a factor.”
Dick’s parents had reported her missing Friday night, the same night that Smoky Lake began the three-day tournament with a 2-2 tie against Cold Lake.
The next afternoon, the Smoky Lake players and their parents gathered on the Stettler Sports Park sidelines to mourn her passing.
“We were just so sick to our stomach,” said Caron, who had two daughters with Smoky Lake’s under-18 provincial team.
“We sat down on the field and had our cry. I personally thought we were going to go home. I thought we were done at that point. I didn’t think we were going to continue. (But) my wife talked to Stefanie’s mom, and Stefanie’s mom gave us clear direction that we are not to come home and we are to finish what we went to do — and to play the game in memory of Stefanie.”
The players tried to regroup at their Stettler hotel, and parents gave them memorial ribbons and crafts, Caron said.
“The girls made headbands and armbands and put Stefanie’s name and number on them. We played that 5 o’clock game with a little bit of spirit, but it was tough. The girls would stop during the game and cry on the sidelines.”
Smoky Lake lost 2-1 to Carstairs, but went on to defeat Sherwood Park 5-4 in the seventh-place game Sunday.
Moments of silence were observed at both the under-18 girls’ and under-16 boys’ provincial tournaments in Stettler.
Before the under-18 medals were presented, Caron and his two under-14 call-ups accepted the sportsmanship award on behalf of the Smoky Lake girls.
They were rewarded for perseverance in the face of tragedy. Most of those Smoky Lake girls are 16 and going into Grade 12 — and Dick was a classmate.
“This whole team has been together for six years,” said Caron, whose daughter Courtnee is one of the club’s 16-year-old players. “The players and parents all know each other well. They knew Stefanie and know her family.”
Caron is the mayor and the deputy fire chief in Waskatenau, which is near Smoky Lake. He was in contact with the RCMP on Saturday and Victim Services personnel were deployed to the team’s Stettler base, the Canalta Hotel.
“The girls needed a hug and needed to vent a little bit, just to help them cope and let out some emotion,” said Caron, who thanked Victim Services representatives from Stettler and the hotel staff for keeping the pool open late Saturday “to give the girls a place to unwind.”
When they returned home Sunday night, the Smoky Lake soccer players joined Dick’s rugby teammates, parents and teachers for a two-hour debriefing with Victim Services.