Leona Kelly, of Shxw’owhamel, got her start in soccer at the age of 12.
She played one game, then put it aside for almost half a century before getting back at it. Now, at 60, she’s playing with and against women as young as half her age in Chilliwack’s Rockers’ Soccer league.
It’s a seven-a-side league for women 30 and older, playing on roughly half as much grass as the full field players use — but limited space doesn’t mean limited fun as the players often have twice as much fun.
“I played goalie in one game when I was at the Mission residential school,” Kelly said. “We won the game but my team just kept the ball down at the other end the whole time. I never learned to play.
“Then last fall, Dr. McKenzie at the Sto:lo office said she wasn’t able to play for the Rosedale Rockers, so I joined them for the fall full-field league.
“This spring, it was seven-a-side, so the Rockers didn’t need me and I thought ‘I guess I’m not playing’ — then another team called me.”
By chance, Kelly joined Vanessa Hope, of Dogwood Valley on the Green Lighting squad, otherwise known as ‘Neon.’
This is the second year for Hope, who was encouraged to join by Tammy Nazarchuk, a former basketball star and teacher and administrator at Hope Secondary.
Nazarchuk is now the principal at Harrison Elementary.
“I watched a lot of soccer over the years, so I thought I had a good understanding of it,” said Hope. “Understanding it is different than playing it, though!
“It’s just the frustration of knowing what I want to do and not being able to pull it off. This year, I started training for the Sun Run in December, and that has definitely helped.
“What I enjoy is the social aspect,” said Hope. “We’re mostly a bunch of moms out there, taking some time for ourselves and getting active. We get some good pointers from the better players, too. It’s always positive.”
The league was started in the spring of 2008 by a group of Rosedale moms who wanted a league of their own.
It started with eight teams and grew to 12 in 2011.
Nazarchuk joined the Green Lightning in the expansion year.
“That was eight years ago, when I was 42. I like the camaraderie of women of all skill levels playing together — though the 30-year-olds are killing me!” she said with a laugh.
About the time Nazarchuk was getting involved, three sisters who were raised in Boston Bar joined the Black team before switching to Platinum, which has now signed up three more of their sisters.
The Conkin Family of Boston Bar produced 10 girls and three boys. Cheryl, Melissa and Lauralee were the first to join the Rockers’ league, followed by Brittany and Nadine. Now, Alyssa has aged onto the team and recently scored her first goal.
Team Platinum finished the first half of the season one point out of top spot and the Conkin sisters are a big part of the team’s success. Amazingly, their soccer skills have largely been developed after age 30 — though Nadine recalled playing for Boston Bar back in the day when they took on Hope Secondary.
“Truls Asdal was my coach,” she said, “and his wife, (Sheila,) was my kindergarten teacher.”
To find out more about the league, search for Rockers and Friends Soccer on Facebook.