LANGLEY — Standing just off to the side of pandemonium, Geoff Labine spied the scene unfolding at one end of the pitch at South Surrey Athletic Park just over a week ago.
Langley Secondary players, resplendent in their road greens, were clutching a trophy, holding it high and running together down the sidelines of the pitch.
It has been eight years since the Saints had reason to celebrate a Fraser Valley senior boys AA soccer championship title, and as the winning feeling returned, head coach Labine could not help but take pause and reflect on what a 4-0 win over Maple Ridge’s Thomas Haney Thunder truly meant in the hallways of their school.
“Seven of our 11 starters are from the Karen nation,” Labine said of a group of students who trace their heritage back to the Southeast Asian nation of Myanmar (formerly Burma), and whose families were forced to flee their native land to refugee camps in bordering to Thailand, to escape an oppressive military regime.
“Today, it’s so nice to see them with smiles on their faces,” continued Labine. “They are feeling so much more spirit. The school and the community have been able to give them so much, and now they are so happy to give a (Fraser Valley title) banner back to the community that supported them.”
Between 2005-09, the Canadian government re-settled nearly 800 Karen refugees in this country, and 257 of them came to call Langley their new home.
Over the years, Karen student-athletes have bridged new ties with the rest of the student body through a host of activities, but especially sports where they participated in rugby, football and soccer.
Now, beginning Monday, the truly international Saints take their act to an even bigger stage as one of the top four seeds at the B.C. AA championship tournament, which begins a three-day run at Burnaby Lake West.
How did they get there?
Langley’s regular season was far from perfect.
A 4-2-1 record tied them for second in the FV West, yet when they got to the Fraser Valley championships, they were a team re-invented.
Langley opened with a 3-0 win over MEI, blanked Archbishop Carney 4-0 in the semifinals, then finished the tourney with a third straight clean sheet in its 4-0 win over Thomas Haney.
“We started the season as a brand new team,” said Labine. “We had a few hiccups early but over the latter part of the season, we’ve really come together.”
In the Fraser Valley title game played Nov. 8, the Saints opened the scoring on a goal by Luke Lay Paul, then closed out the contest with a flurry, getting a natural hat trick from Grade 10 sensation Htoo Htoo Eh.
“The Karen boys just love to play with the ball,” says Labine. “That is their favourite thing. So they are always making those little flicks and the give-and-gos. They play a possession game and they like to take shots from anywhere.”
Labine loves the melting pot of culture that has made his team such an international treat.
“They have brought their beautiful style here,” he says of the dozen Karen players on the roster. “Every day after school, for hours, all they do is play with the ball. It’s why their skill is so high. We have a solid back line with Drew (Weidendorf) and others. And then when we win the ball, we let the Karen boys, with all of their creativeness and their magic, do the rest.”
That’s a good word for it, and a good reason next week to keep an eye on a team full of kids, so many of whom have found their peace and their joy on the other side of the world.
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