Shamar Bennett thought he was alighting from the team bus for a standard pre-game interview as the NWT’s soccer team prepared to face Ontario.
The 18-year-old, who grew up in Jamaica, now lives in Norman Wells. He is the only player in the territory’s male soccer team at this month’s Canada Games who lives outside Yellowknife.
When Canadian Tire heard his story, which was first reported by the CBC, the Canada Games sponsor chose to secretly fly Shamar’s mother and stepfather from the Sahtu to the Niagara region. Shamar didn’t know they were coming.
Oblivious to his family arriving behind him, Shamar began describing how they had supported him in the run-up to the Games, and how he would represent Jamaica and Norman Wells with pride as part of Team NT.
He was then told to turn around – to find mom Keisha and stepdad Courtney standing there.
A speechless Shamar stood shocked as his family laughed themselves senseless and hugged him.
Keisha, thanking Canadian Tire for the trip, told her son: “I know this is a big moment for you and I know that us being here will be a really big support for you.”
“We’re happy that we’re here to support you,” added Courtney. “But what we really want is for you to win all the games.”
Not every wish came true – Team NT was beaten 7-0 by hosts Ontario on Sunday, with a player on either side sent off – but the surprise trip at least gave one team member a lift and brought the NWT one of the largest media entourages the territory has experienced at a Canada Games, with several cameras trained on the family pre-game.
After the CBC reported that Shamar was fundraising to cover his travel to pre-tournament training, North-Wright Airways and Canadian North each made significant donations to help cover the cost of flying to and from Yellowknife.
According to the broadcaster, the cancellation of two camps because of Covid-19 meant extra cash existed to establish a sports fund at Norman Wells’ Mackenzie Mountain School.
Late last year, Keisha told the CBC the fundraising efforts of the family and sponsors meant there was “no longer a mountain to climb.”
“I’m excited to have her here,” Shamar said on Sunday of his mom’s surprise trip.
“She helped a lot. She helped by looking at letters I drafted to the community to ask for help, and just being there and supporting me each and every way, to get to Yellowknife for practices and stuff like that.”
Team NT’s soccer players are next in action against Saskatchewan on Monday from 5:30pm MT, a game set to be broadcast live online.
Also on Sunday, NWT tennis players Teresa Martin and Ofira Duru completed a superb women’s doubles victory over Newfoundland and Labrador, winning 6-3 5-7 6-1.
The result provided an impressive consolation as the overall mixed team tie – which also featured four singles matches and men’s doubles – was won by Newfoundland and Labrador.
In the pool, the NWT’s women were reported to have set a team personal best in the 4x200m freestyle relay but did not challenge for medals.
Editor’s note: The reporter is also attending the Canada Games on behalf of Team NT as a volunteer member of mission staff.