The cinder-block dressing room smelled of ointment and stale sweat, a peculiar odor familiar to every athlete.
The room at Exhibition Park in Chilliwack was like so many others in which athletes spend their final moments before competition. One player’s description: “Four walls. Four benches. Toilet at the rear.”
The players of the Vikes Alumni soccer team had travelled to the Fraser Valley for a showdown to determine the men’s over-35 championship of British Columbia. Their opponents were the Surrey Rangers, a tough squad not known for genteel play.
The match was the reward for uncounted training days in the rain and fog of a Vancouver Island spring. The alumni squad had needed three victories, each a hard-fought conquest decided by a single goal, to advance to this championship game.
Not all thoughts were on the game at hand.
Back home in Victoria, a warrior was being put to rest.
Ken Ross, BEd ’78, had died, aged 57, just 12 days earlier. A memorial service was to be held at the high school where he had taught followed by a celebration of life, at the campus pub.
The mourning family was told the reason behind the absence of so many friends and former teammates. They were also told the team’s efforts in the game were being dedicated to them.
In the dressing room, the players laced their boots, fiddled with the shin guards beneath their blue socks.
The coach had some words about strategy and tactics.
The manager spoke about a fallen comrade.
The room was silent.
“A lot of players took it to heart,” team manager Moreno Stefani, BA ’84, says. “You could see it in their eyes. They were hanging on every word that we said.”
They considered wearing black arm bands as a tribute, but decided not to do so.
Still, the manager felt some gesture was appropriate.
On the spur of the moment, inspired by the circumstance, he tore a strip of white athletic tape on which he then wrote, in block letters, KEN ROSS. He stuck it at shoulder height on the left side of the door.
“Take a look at his name and remember him when you go out there,” Stefani told the team.
Then, overcome by the moment, he turned his head, hiding tears. He could not bear to watch.
One by one, the players filed through the door, each one tapping with their left hand the name on the tape as they prepared to do battle.
“All I could hear,” he said later, “ was the tap.”
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