Drew Ferguson will be counting on his veterans to show youth the way.
Ferguson, coach of Canada’s national Paralympic men’s soccer team, held a training camp at King’s Park. Among the youth players trying to crack a spot on the roster is Oliver’s Isaac Nazaroff.
“There is going to be a place for Isaac somewhere down the road on this program,” said Ferguson, whose team came close to qualifying for the London Paralympics. “It’s just a matter if he realizes how hard he has to work to get to that next level. He is a player that I believe is going to do well one day.”
Nazaroff said it’s quite the opportunity.
“It’s pretty cool because if you work hard enough and train hard enough and if you’re lucky enough, you can earn a spot on the team and represent your country,” said the South Okanagan Youth Soccer Association product. “Whether it be the Olympics, the Paralympics, the Pan Am Games, the world championships. We’re all hoping to earn a spot.
“You go out and you‘re hoping for the best,” he continued. “Personally I get butterflies. I get kind of nervous. I think it’s expected.”
Ferguson said it’s a matter of the younger players knowing what the veterans have sacrificed to represent their country.
“The younger guys to compete with some of the senior guys to see where they want to go,” said Ferguson. “Doesn’t matter if you’re playing with the cerebral palsy team or the able body team, you have to push yourself. Some of the younger players need to see the level they have to get to.”
One of the veterans which they get to learn from is goalkeeper Derek Whitson, who also plays on Canada’s national men’s sledge hockey team.
In his second camp with the soccer team this season, Whitson said the team is a lot better. Along with the new faces, he is impressed with the calibre and selection they have.
“It’s very exciting to keep moving forward,” said Whitson, who was impressed with Penticton’s scenery, weather and loved Kings Park.
Whitson said it’s an honour playing at the paralympic level.
“Anytime you get to put on a Canadian jersey and represent your country, it’s something some people never get to do,” said Whitson, a forward on the hockey team. “You have to take pride in that.”
Whitson has put his regular life on hold to dedicate himself to go to the Sochi Olympics in Russia and the 2016 Olympic Summer Games in Brazil.
As for the young players looking to show their worth on the soccer team, Ferguson added that some of the young players think they are good players and are, but stated they have to be better to wear the maple leaf.
Part of the reason Ferguson has brought some of his veterans is to give them a few days to enjoy themselves. Ferguson was impressed with the weather shining on the players and the field they had to play on.
On Saturday at 3 p.m., the team will take on the Pinnacles under-16 girls provincial championship squad.
“It should be fun,” he said. “I’m not sure how they will match up against us. Our full national team, we play against university women’s teams and usually have success against them. I think the girls will enjoy it and hopefully some of our guys will do well.”
Ezra Cremers, executive director for SOYSA welcomed the paralympic soccer team, which tours the province. Cremers and Ferguson met last fall and that opened the door for the team to hold a training camp in Penticton. Cremers was excited Ferguson chose to come and especially for the fact they will play the girls team.
“It’s fantastic,” he said. “It will be very difficult competition for these under-16 girls. We believe we can give them a game.”
Cremers said there was no hesitation on the girls side to play. They were so excited some of the players were rubbing their hands.