Kerri Russell was thrilled to discover a quality women’s soccer league when she moved to Fort Frances 10 years ago.
A veteran of leagues in New Brunswick, London and Dryden, Russell, then in her 20s, was quick to sign up to play the sport she loved.
There was just one problem.
“There were a lot of really, really phenomenal soccer players but a lot of them were in their teens,” Russell said. “There weren’t a lot of women my age that were playing at that time.”
Russell tried several teams, enjoying her time with each one, but still something was missing.
“For me, it (soccer) was more of a social thing,” she recalled.
Being new to town Russell hoped to use soccer as a means of meeting new friends her own age—something that was proving difficult given the roughly 10 year age difference between her and most of her new teammates.
Finally, she decided to take matters into her own hands.
Russell put up several signs around town and began canvassing people to gauge their interest in forming a team of women “who were past high school age.”
A team for women with families and children.
A team for women who might have played soccer in the past, left the sport for any number of reasons, and who were now interested in playing again.
A team for mature women who might never have played soccer but who wanted to try it out.
The response was astounding.
“We got really good interest our first year,” Russell said.
Russell then contacted Russ Ling at Taggs Source For Sports to see if he would be interested in sponsoring the new team.
Ling immediately agreed and helped provide jerseys and equipment for the new squad.
“We didn’t have a highly-skilled team at that time, but we really had a great time (playing soccer together),” Russell recalled of that first season.
Seven years have past since the team now known as “Taggs” began their first season of competitive play.
A lot has changed since that inaugural season.
The team that lacked somewhat in skill their first season evolved over the years to become one of the league’s best, winning the championship each of the past two years.
“The dynamic has changed but we’ve remained a team that really likes to play together,” Russell said of their success.
The league itself began to change as more women Russell’s age began to take up the sport.
“People come and go but as a whole it seems the teams over the last few years have evolved so there are a lot more women my age playing now,” she commented.
The high school age women Russell had played with her first three seasons began to get married and start families of their own.
Russell and her husband had three children but through it all she remained involved with soccer.
“If I was pregnant, I’d be helping to coach that year,” she remarked. “The year after I had the baby I would be trying to get back in shape.”
However, the biggest change is the one that is about to take place.
Russell’s husband Shawn recently took a job in Castleguard, British Columbia and the rest of the family will be moving once the house sells.
Russell is excited by the promise of new adventures but she’ll miss playing soccer with her teammates.
“I’m going to really miss playing soccer,” she said.
“I don’t know if there’s a league where I’m going,” added Russell. “Emotionally it’s really tough leaving the people that have made living in Fort Frances so enjoyable.
“A lot of those people are on my soccer team.”
And while Russell is also going to miss her teammates it’s quite possible those same teammates will miss having Russell on the team more.
Team captain Tamea Fleury said Russell was instrumental in getting many new players to join the team.
“She’s the reason a lot of people who’d never played soccer before came out and played,” Fleury said. “I probably would have never started if it hadn’t been for someone like her.”
Fleury has many fond memories of Russell encouraging all the new players and teaching them the necessary skills to improve on the field.
For the core group of players who’ve been with the team for a while, next season promises to be a drastically different experience.
“Our team has changed a lot over the years but for the people who’ve been there for a while, like myself, it’s just not going to be the same without Kerri,” Fleury said.
“She’s been there for every year I’ve played,” she added. “It’s going to be really sad next year when we have to play without her.”