Soccer becomes a vehicle for a Yellowknife community’s hopes
“I’m about to go and probably embarrass myself because I haven’t played in, I don’t know, 10 years?”
Parents and coaches are lining up to play each other as a tournament organized by the YK Galaxy soccer academy draws to a close. A little nervously, Defny Torindo is preparing to take part.
Across the front of Torindo’s tournament jersey is the logo of Diversity NWT & Nunavut, a not-for-profit being launched mainly by members of Yellowknife’s Zimbabwean community.
This is the first large event the group has sponsored.
“We’re looking at promoting inclusiveness in our community from the grassroots,” says Vusi Bhetshwana, Diversity’s secretary. “How can we promote different heritages, different cultures, and help the youth to grow up in a positive light of themselves?”
Bhetshwana came from Zimbabwe to Canada in 2001, then moved to Yellowknife in 2016. His four children are here.
The Torindo family, similarly, is Zimbabwean. The Torindos have been in Yellowknife for well over a decade and Defny’s older brother, former professional player Dillon, is the heartbeat of the YK Galaxy club.
While she talks, Dillon races from one field to another. One moment, he’s presenting medals to a third-placed team. The next, he’s trying to arrange the parent-coach game. (Defny persuaded him to mix parents and coaches on each team rather than have the poor parents face the evidently better-equipped coaches. “Dillon wanted to get away with that one and I couldn’t let him,” she says.)
Defny thinks the club’s spring tournament – inside Yellowknife’s fieldhouse, with snow still on the ground outside – is the perfect place to bring a message of diversity to all ages.
“We have parents involved,” she says, “even parents playing as well. We have the kids cheering them on. It’s pretty big.”
Asked why an organization like Diversity is needed, president Adelaide Mufandaedza – who came from Zimbabwe to Yellowknife in 2019 – describes the Black Lives Matter movement as an inspiration. She says the five founders of the group, three of whom are nurses, felt it was worth having an organization that urged people to recognize “we are all the same under the skin.”
“We’re trying to raise up Black-led organizations to be bigger, to be better,” she says. “To have more exposure, to have more participants.”
There’s a sense from Mufandaedza and Bhetshwana that they believe their kids need this.
“We all had young kids and we just wanted them not to feel that they are excluded,” Mufandaedza, who has two children in Yellowknife, continues.
Bhetshwana believes Covid-19 created “a lot of divisiveness” and wants Diversity to help form an antidote.
“People were going through different challenges and society was pulling apart,” he says. “Most of us are coming from an African background, a Black background. There were a lot of incidences that inspired us to try to pull society together.”
YK Galaxy’s spring tournament was selected because Yellowknife’s Zimbabwean community admires Dillon Torindo’s club and commitment to the city’s youth.
The club was formed in 2018, Dillon having given up his professional ambitions because of injury. His family is known in Zimbabwe for its soccer prowess, and Zimbabwean newsrooms reported the Torindos’ launch of a YK Galaxy offshoot in the country’s capital, Harare, last fall.
“When we looked at Galaxy and what Dillon has been doing with young kids, promoting from the grassroots, we thought there was a great opportunity to partner with him,” says Bhetshwana.
“He has kids and wanted to give back to the community because he couldn’t go as far as he wanted,” says Defny.
“Galaxy is pretty-much for him a legacy for our community, for Yellowknife – and for his sons, his daughters.”
Tanaka Muwirimi, 14, is still settling in to Yellowknife. His family moved from Edmonton a year and a half ago. They’re Zimbabwean, too.
“Edmonton is a big city and Yellowknife is a smaller city – a colder city too,” Muwirimi says. “It’s very different, but I like the people here. It’s like a family, everyone here.”
His team safely through to Sunday’s tournament final, he expresses an optimistic outlook on Diversity’s mission.
“Diversity means different people, which is good. You learn different things from different people,” he says, gesturing to the field.
Luke Kotaska and his team finished third in their age group. At his medal presentation, the 18-year-old praises the atmosphere at the event.
“Growing up, I was always around the hockey rink and I liked the energy of everyone there. It’s really nice to see this at soccer,” Kotaska says. “I think it’s a bit more rare having all these people here, but it’s amazing. Everyone’s having a great time.”
He can see why you’d choose an event like this to launch that kind of not-for-profit.
“Soccer is such an accessible sport. You need a pair of shoes and you can come out,” Kotaska says.
“However you grew up, whatever your background is, you can come out and have a great time.”
‘Learning the ropes’
Diversity is in its early stages. The group’s full name mentions both the NWT and Nunavut, but Mufandaedza and Bhetshwana are both conscious that really, they’re five Yellowknifers at the start of a journey. They must work to live up to that title.
Their goals, too, will be refined over time. Asked how they hope to turn their mission into action, they outline opening steps driven by events.
A heritage festival is likely to be next, mixing Black cultures with those of other groups like Yellowknife’s Filipino community. A colour run, a recreational race popular elsewhere in North America, may be an option too.
“We’re learning the ropes,” says Mufandaedza.
“I’m a new immigrant. I don’t really know much about the North, per se. So I’m trying to learn as much as I can and do my part.
“I don’t want to be just… there. I hope we can leave a mark that is beneficial and our kids can say, ‘Hey, look, regardless of everything else that’s going on, we can make a difference in our community.'”
Correction: April 25, 2022 – 10:13 MT. An image caption in an earlier version of this story misidentified Defny Torindo. The caption has been amended.