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Victoria's street soccer squad best in the west

May 01 2012

Shawn Hefele will never forget hoisting the trophy at the Street Soccer Canada western championships in North Vancouver.

The monumental moment on Sunday represented the new confidence he and many of his teammates on the Victoria Dreams team possess, largely thanks to a sport that has forever changed their lives.

Victoria Street Soccer is a branch of Street Soccer Canada, part of an international effort to raise awareness of global poverty and provide an outlet for the marginalized homeless population through athletics. A team of players from across the country is selected to compete in the Homeless World Cup, to be held this fall in Mexico City.

Winning the western championship was important for Hefele. But being part of a team will be a lasting experience.

"There's a lot of people out there on the street that I don't want to hang out with, but when I come here I feel safe and feel like I'm part of something bigger," he said.

Like many on the team, Hefele has suffered from substance abuse and has lived on the streets. The often-isolated lifestyle damaged his ego as he struggled to get his life in order.

"Because of soccer, I got a little confidence," he said. "I think a great deal of the confidence comes from soccer. Every other time I was around crowds, I felt introverted - and now I don't feel so shy."

Ivan Soto, 63, joined the Victoria Dreams two years ago. He lives at a Salvation Army shelter, where he also volunteers with programs there.

As coach and backup goalie, he had an important message for his team before heading into the tournament on the weekend. "I said to them: 'We're not going to compete, we're going to win the cup,' " he said during a break from practice at the Fernwood Community Centre on Monday.

The Victoria Dreams triumphed over nine other teams from across Metro Vancouver and Kelowna during the two-day tournament. The team was runner-up in last year's western championship, which took place only a few months after Victoria Street Soccer started in March 2011.

"I am so proud of our players this year," said Victoria Street Soccer founder Katie DeRosa, a reporter at the Times Colonist. "Not only did they display an amazing improvement in their soccer skills, they showed sportsmanship and respect toward all the other players in the tournament."

dspalding@timescolonist.com

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