Reflections of Ponoka: The long, colorful history of soccer around Ponoka

Being so lucky to have grown up and lived around Ponoka for more than 50 great years, I always enjoyed getting together with my buddies,

This talented 1931 Provincial Mental Hospital staff football team captured several league and provincial championships. Shown in the back row are: John Alex Smith

This talented 1931 Provincial Mental Hospital staff football team captured several league and provincial championships. Shown in the back row are: John Alex Smith

Being so lucky to have grown up and lived around Ponoka for more than 50 great years, I always enjoyed getting together with my buddies, picking up teams and enjoying all sorts of fun sports. In the early days we didn’t have much money, so we had to invent and make do with what equipment we could find or scrounge in the neighbourhood, then patched them up with lots of tape, wire, nails or glue if they got broken, then we would get on with the game for many more happy hours.

Can you imagine playing baseball with one bat and ball and sharing two gloves, a hot game of road hockey with only one puck or a tennis ball, sneaking out on the local golf course with only three clubs or kicking around in the mud with one soccer ball or football? Our parents, teachers, leaders and coaches always insisted that absolutely all the kids should get a chance to join in and play, as well as everyone being good sports. When we came to Ponoka from England like so many other families after the war, our fathers quickly introduced us to the grand old game of soccer, which they had likely played for countless hours as youngsters. Many of our folks would go to work at the Provincial Mental Hospital (Centennial Centre), and among all of their other activities, they had a really big soccer pitch and sports field up at the grounds.

I will never forget those exciting evenings and weekends when hundreds of fans came out to cheer on those rugged but friendly soccer games between Central Men’s League teams from Penhold, Red Deer, Wetaskiwin and of course our favourite local sides from the Wood River district and the hospital. After the game, while the adults relaxed and enjoyed a little cheer, all the boys and girls got to go out on the field and kick a whole bunch of soccer ball around, which really caught on, and was likely the humble beginnings of our proud and longstanding Ponoka and district organizations How invigorating it was to run and run, trying to get a kick at the ball, maybe even score a goal, or guard the net, roll around on the grass to catch our breath, then go home for supper and hope that we would get to do it all over again at school or wherever we could find a level piece of grass to play.

Over 100 years of soccer promotion in Alberta.

The Alberta Soccer Association was formed in 1911, and after enjoying tremendous growth and success for more than a century, soon became our province’s largest individual sports organization, with an active membership of 90,000 participants in 18 districts. In checking the history books, a mention of the humble beginnings of this invigorating game was about 2000 years ago, when teams kicked around the first round objects they could find, including animal skulls or pig and cow bladders. Some other rugged versions of the game included Mob Football (Rome), Woggaballini (Australia), and Kemberi (Japan) but it would be the English who would form a set of rules in the mid-1800s and laid claim to organizing the highly popular modern game that now features 250 million players in 200 countries.

Over the years, the Alberta Soccer Association has been dedicated to promoting the year-round involvement of this most vigorous and healthful game for age groups from six years to adults. The ASA also spearheads countless competitions at the local, provincial, and International levels, as well as helping to provide quality outdoor and indoor pitches, in which the teams can enjoy their games as well as receive quality instruction and development through the provision of soccer camps and other events. Provincial milestones have hosted of the FIFA Women’s World Soccer Cup in 2002, the U20 World Cup in 2007 and the forthcoming Women’s World Cup in 2015.

The active Ponoka Soccer Association (www.ponokasoccer.ca) plays host to a number of teams each season, including: U6 boys and girls mixed, U8 boys and girls or mixed, U10 boys and girls or mixed, U12 boys and girls individual teams, U14 boys and girls individual teams, U16 boys and girls individual teams, and U18 boys and girls individual teams. As well as the super enthusiasm and participation of each and every player and their leaders, the combined efforts of the PSA have always produced countless championships along the way, this year including gold for the U16 girls at the Slurpee Cup in Edmonton, and a silver for the U18 girls at the Sunbreaker tournament.

The dedicated PSA board is: Rob McArthur (president), Lonny Behm (VP and director of player/coach development), Michelle Blanchette (registration secretary and CASA rep), Tamara Clarke (treasurer), Shauna Pearman (field maintenance), Greg Bendera (indoor co-ordinator), league co-ordinators Amanda Henderson, Brad Normaneau and Faron LeClerc, Darren Harder (equipment), Julie Hrycyk (public relations and fundraising) and referee co-ordinator Matt McArthur. The Ponoka Association also receives a great deal of ongoing support and co-operation from their many coaches, referees, officials, volunteers, sponsors, and of course avid parents and fans.

Best wishes for many more seasons of fun and success, and thank you for keeping this long and proud tradition of Ponoka and district soccer going strong for everyone who loves to kick a ball around.