Sixty years of tradition was on display Sunday as the St. Albert Soccer Association celebrated its diamond anniversary and the re-opening of the Riel Park field of dreams.
The largest sports organization in St. Albert recognized its rich past while looking towards the future with unbridled optimism.
“Sixty years ago our founders created the Hercules Sporting Association to provide recreational opportunities for the youth of our community. I wonder if when they created this association all those years ago they could envision what this amazing place was to become today. As David Coe reminds us: It is not the beauty of a building you should look at, it’s the construction of the foundation that will stand the test of time,” said SASA president Kevin Jones during the opening ceremonies from the spacious clubhouse deck overlooking the facility’s immaculate pitches.
“Sixty years ago our founders set us on this path; a 60-year journey to who we are today. Many have helped establish the core of what was to be and has become the association we are today. The organization built by our founders has withstood the test of time and I trust it will continue in the future,” Jones continued. “It is my sincere desire that the work we do here today honours those in our past that laid the foundation of our association that started our traditions and we have paved the way for future generations to continue our work as we enjoy this beautiful game that is part of the fabric of our amazing community.”
Jones described SASA as an organization that has evolved from a multi-sport club during the Hercules era to a leader in soccer programming in Alberta and a developer of talent.
“SASA is a club that understands our role in the community that works selflessly in support of the development of soccer in our community and province and is a place that values our community, our members and places them at the centre of what we do; a leader in the provincial soccer community that is respected and appreciated for our work and programs,” said the U16 Tier 3 Impact coach. “However, through all the changes and renovations the foundation of who we are has never waivered. The foundation that was established in 1955 continues on today; an association that works to provide outstanding recreational opportunities to the youth of our community.”
Jones noted in 1955 the population of St. Albert was just over 1,300 and today it has exceeded 62,000, of whom 5,000 are SASA members.
The year-long SASA program supports nearly 2,000 members on 166 teams in the winter and 4,000 members, ranging from U4 to ladies classics and masters, on 225 teams in the summer.
“Soccer is the most played sport in St. Albert and when you’re competing with hockey in Canada that is quite an accomplishment,” said St. Albert MP Brent Rathgeber during his congratulatory remarks on behalf of the government of Canada.
Mayor Nolan Crouse saluted SASA for its work on and off the pitch.
“When you can combine activities and education and support from youth right through adult you’re doing the right thing,” said Crouse, who announced that council recently approved $5,000 in community events grants allocation funding to SASA for Sunday’s celebration.
The re-opening of the four Riel Park pitches in May after the completion of the reclamation work and outdoor facility enhancement projects that started in August of 2012 was also greeted with fanfare.
“I’ve been to quite a few soccer facilities across Canada and this is one of the best ones,” declared Dave MacEachran, director of the Impact senior teams and Sunday’s master of ceremonies.
Norm Odinga, arguably one of the greatest soccer players ever produced in St. Albert, agreed.
“It’s a fantastic facility for all of the members of St. Albert soccer to come and play. This is so important in the development of St. Albert players and those from surrounding areas,” said Odinga, who is enshrined in Canada’s Soccer Hall of Fame with the 1989 Canadian national men’s team, winner of the first FIFA Francophone Games World Football Championship with a 4-1 decision over Morocco, the host country.
“It’s fantastic because what all amateur clubs need is a home and St. Albert soccer has provided that and there is not a lot of clubs that have their own facilities. In Canada this is an anomaly. This is very special,” said Odinga, who played his first international match in 1982 against El Salvador and the last was a 1993 World Cup qualifier against Australia.
“At the (St. Albert) rugby club they say they have the best facility in Canada but this here for soccer is on par or better than the Victoria club and having played with the national team (six A caps) and played professional for so many years you go to different places and even on the West Coast a lot of them don’t have their own fields. They’re always having community fields given to them to play. We can come here and play and that makes a big difference. This is like having a home and having a home is so important.”
Odinga’s storied soccer career kicked off the day he brought home a Hercules’ form from school.
“If you wanted to play you filled it out and you went and played so that’s how I started,” said the versatile midfielder/fullback back in the day who coaches the U14 Tier 1 female Impact team. “At that time we generally played all of our games at basically the Grosvenor field by Sir George Simpson and I fell in with a really good group of players, which included Paul Kelly and Terry Nipp, and Herman Kochan was our coach. Everybody did it because they had a passion and they loved it.
“It was always based on finding an available field and just showing up where there was a green space and playing and now look where we are today.”
One of the biggest crowd pleasers at Sunday’s celebration, in addition to the impressive lounge and deck, was a detailed historical timeline painstakingly put together by SASA secretary Paula Onderwater. It spanned the early years of the Hercules club, which initially started as a boxing club formed by Len Dawson in 1955, to the birth of the non-profit SASA organization, as well as the legendary Rangers’ soccer team and its revered founder, Dieter Knobloch, plus the Impact program.
Mike Thompson, an original and current Ranger from the 1989 U18 national champion St. Albert Cougars, had fun with his son, Tristan, checking out the timeline and poring over old Gazette clippings about the Rangers.
“This is a great day for St. Albert soccer,” said Thompson, one of several past and present Rangers coaching at the club or high school levels. “We are so very fortunate have a program like St. Albert soccer and this facility is second to none. So many people have put in an incredible amount of time and energy to make soccer in St. Albert what it is today.”