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Helen Stoumbos - An Icon of Canadian Soccer
Helen Stoumbos

The former Canadian Soccer star aims to shine the spotlight on the sport, in a slightly different way this time.

Photo courtesy of Helen Stoumbos

The Canadian soccer legend is now promoting walking soccer

Ontario’s first competitive walking soccer tournament will take place in Guelph on July 6 and the host will be someone with a special place in FIFA history. Teams from Oakville, Sarnia, Stratford and Toronto will be part of The Good Games, Canada’s largest festival of sport, with athletes of all levels competing in 12 different sports.

This event is the brainchild of Helen Stoumbos who entered the record books, back in 1995. She scored the first ever goal for Canada in a World Cup – from a corner kick, curving the ball past England goalkeeper Hope Powell.

Her signature shot was years in the making. “I learned how to do that from my dad when I was really young,” Stoumbos recalled.

She even called it: “On the day before, I told my roommate I can score a goal directly from the corner.”

Stoumbos is putting soccer at the heart of The Good Games.

“Soccer is obviously in my blood, so I’ll do anything I can to support the sport and help it grow,” she said.

July 6 will also see women’s soccer tournaments in four age categories, the Canadian Freestyle Championships, and teqball players using their feet in a game resembling volleyball and table tennis. Professional soccer will be represented with special guests coming from the Northern Super League and Hamilton’s Forge FC coming to Guelph.

“I'm gonna start promoting it as Soccer Saturday because the day has become kind of soccer crazy,” Stoumbos said.

With her own playing career having been cut short by a 1999 knee injury, Stoumbos sees the potential in walking soccer for people in a similar situation.

“I injured my knee and had surgery and a partial replacement,” she said. “When I heard about walking soccer I thought, ‘Whoa, that's something I could do.’”

Stoumbos knows she is not alone among players who have been looking for a way to play after injuries and not worry about further aggravations.

“There's this big group of us and there was never any opportunity for us to continue to play soccer,” she said.

“Walking allows you to continue to participate in a sport that you grew up loving and still enjoy it without feeling fearing for your life.”

As the promoter of a multi-sport event, she sees an obvious benchmark for the new game.

“I feel like walking soccer is where pickleball was in 2019,” Stoumbos said. “It's popular and it’s obviously growing.”

While walking soccer clubs are known for their friendliness, The Good Games tournament will advance the competition standard with certified referees from the Ontario Soccer Association.

The University of Guelph will be an attraction. “People are going to be very happy about how good the sports facilities are,” Stoumbos said.

The matches, at the Gryphon Soccer Complex North Field, will be open to spectators.

“I can't wait to see the thinking behind the tactics,” Stoumbos said. “It's more strategic because you have to be sure of which players are in position as you get the ball.”

One of the more popular spectator activities at The Good Games will be beach volleyball, with Olympians and professionals coming to Guelph.

Stoumbos is promising a whole weekend of fun.

In addition to the competitions, people can visit the Festival for demonstrations where they can learn cricket, lacrosse, pilates, dodgeball and other activities. She says these can make it a fun weekend for the whole family.

“We have different sports and activities where you can come try things out and just have a good time,” Stoumbos said.

Saturday night activities will include a march in with the athletes. “I want people to feel like this is their own Olympic Games,” Stoumbos said.

It will be followed by “a big dance party which everybody will want to come to,” she promised.

Players staying over will be able to enjoy more demonstrations on Sunday, July 7. These will include a basketball challenge, Indigenous sports and the beach volleyball finals.

Accommodation is still available for those planning to spend the weekend in Guelph, both on campus and at a nearby hotel.

Story by Mike Winterburn

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