Fred Mitchell gets into a collision, backed up by Shane Brown. (Photo by Don Bodger)

Penelakut Island men’s soccer team honours ‘Gram’ with a tournament to remember

Elder Irene Sam was on the minds of players in their bid for Cowichan Buckskin title

‘Gram’ would have been proud.

Unfortunately, one of the Penelakut Island Thunder men’s soccer team’s biggest fans wasn’t there to see it. Irene Sam, who was the oldest band member of Penelakut Island, passed away at age 88 May 2.

She was known as ‘Gram’ to most of the team and the players who were pallbearers at her funeral service were determined to win the Cowichan Buckskin soccer tournament on Mother’s Day weekend in her honour.

“We almost did it,” said Penelakut coach Mark Brown Sr., Sam’s son-in-law. “We fell short at the end.”

The Penelakut players wore armbands bearing the name ‘Gram’ and had an inspired tournament right from the first game through the fourth.

Sam was very proud of the soccer team and this would have been one of her favourite moments of all time.

The Thunder got to the final of the 16-team event, only to settle for second place after a heartbreaking 2-1 loss to the Alert Bay Cormorants on a golden goal following a controversial penalty shot call.

“The young boys played well,” enthused Brown.

Raymond Sam, Gram’s grand nephew, had the Thunder up 1-0, but the Cormorants tied it in the second half. The game went into overtime and the tournament still uses the golden goal format so that penalty shot marker late in the first seven-and-a-half minute overtime period decided the issue.

“It was a good game all the way through,” said Brown. “We just lost it at the end because of that penalty shot.”

The trek to the final began with a thrilling 3-2 victory over We Wat Kat Saturday morning. The Thunder led 2-0 at the half and seemed in total control, but We Wat Kat tied it with two goals in the second half.

With time winding down, the Thunder rallied to score the winner.

Saturday afternoon action against St:olo of the Fraser Valley was tied 1-1 at the end of regulation and went to extended penalty kicks before the Thunder prevailed. Goalie Cordell Jack came up big for Penelakut in that penalty shootout.

Facing Saanich United in the semis Sunday, the Thunder kept Sam’s spirit alive with a 2-1 victory. The players gave it all they had in the final, but the call that went in Alert Bay’s favour ended their championship aspirations.

“We’re not doing too bad for a rebuilding team,” assessed Brown.

He paid tribute to his mother-in-law for following and supporting the young team, which meant a lot to the players.

Caden Jack was honoured as the best defender in the tournament and was named to the all-star team. Brent and Shane Brown were also named tournament all-stars, along with Raymond Sam.

The Thunder also came second in the preceding Totem soccer tournament on the Easter weekend, losing in the final as well. The next tournament is at Campbell River at the end of June.

Penelakut was represented at the Buckskin event by a host of other teams.

The women’s group, Penelakut Island Salish Strong, coached by Denny Jack Sr., ended up losing on penalty shots in the consolation bracket.

The Under 7 Penelakut Island Predators, coached by Travis Brown, matched the men as finalists and lost in the final to place second.

Denny Jack Sr. also coached the Penelakut Island Mini Thunder in the Under 10 division.

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Jack Charlie makes a heads-up play in Buckskin tournament game against We Wat Kat. (Photo by Don Bodger)

Caden Jack puts a big boot on the ball, sending We Wat Kat players scrambling. (Photo by Don Bodger)

Daniel Jack fights for possession. (Photo by Don Bodger)

The Penelakut Island Thunder men’s soccer team. Back row, from left are: coach Mark Brown Sr., Raymond Sam, Daniel Jack, Tyrone Jack, Melvin Jack the Third, Denny Jack The Second, Riley Jack, Fred Mitchell, Michael Fuller, Jody Mitchell. Front: Cameron Sylvester, Donovan Brown, Roger Charlie, Brent Brown, Jack Charlie, Shane Brown, Caden Jack, Paul Mitchell. Goalie in front: Cordell Jack. Above left, ‘Gram’ armband worn by Penelakut Island Thunder players in honour of one of their biggest supporters, Irene Sam. She passed away May 2. Known as Gram to most everyone on the team, she was the oldest band member of Penelakut Island. She was proud of the soccer team. Players were pallbearers at her funeral. (Photos by Don Bodger)

“Gram” armband worn by Penelakut Island Thunder players in honour of one of their biggest supporters, Irene Sam. She passed away May 2. Known as Gram to most all on the team, she was the oldest band member of Penelakut Island. She was proud of the soccer team. Players were pallbearers at her funeral. (Photo by Don Bodger)

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