Shamar Bennett was texting photos to his mother from the floor of the opening ceremonies on Saturday, with no idea that she was looking right at him and recording the whole thing.
“There’s just no words to describe that,” said Keisha Campbell, who had just arrived from Norman Wells, NWT with Bennett’s stepdad Courtney Hyatt, courtesy of the Canada Games Council and Canadian Tire Corporation. “He was enjoying the music and dancing. We videoed it all and were taking pictures right behind him. But he had no idea.”
Instead, Bennett’s family surprised him Sunday afternoon just as he arrived at the Youngs Sportsplex in Welland, where the NWT men’s soccer team was about to take on Ontario. As he was giving an interview to the Team NWT communications officer, his family appeared (followed by a pack of cameras).
“We’re excited for you. We know this is a big moment for you. … So just go out and be great,” Campbell told her son.
“I feel shocked,” Bennett admitted soon after the big reveal. And the 18-year-old definitely seemed speechless. But he also said seeing them here at the Games makes a difference.
“It really does,” he said. Even though all of us on the team are already a family it’s even better to see other familiar faces back here. … My mom and stepdad out there.”
Campbell and Hyatt arrived Saturday, Aug. 6. They plan to watch Bennett and NWT play on the Sunday and Monday, and then return to NWT on Tuesday, Aug. 9.
Bennett grew up in Jamaica where he learned the game. And he comes by his talent naturally with two uncles, an aunt and three cousins with national team experience, according to his mother, including Lloyd Barker who played for the Montreal Impact in the 1990s.
Bennett followed his mother to Norman Wells three years ago when she moved there to work as a nurse. When Team NWT came to the local school to scout soccer talent, Bennett was invited to try out.
Norman Wells has a population of less than 700 and is located on the north side of the Mackenzie River, about 700 kilometres northwest of Yellowknife. So, it’s been a challenge to keep his soccer fitness and skill up. Bennett works on ball handling skills on his own, plays softball, basketball and volleyball, and runs to stay in shape.
After a first set of tryouts in Yellowknife through June 2021, Bennett was invited to continue the monthly training camps. But the travel costs were prohibitive.
Despite its small size, the Norman Wells community fundraised more than $5,000 for Bennett and his stepdad to travel to and from Yellowknife several times to participate in the NWT team training camps. Flights were donated by North-Wright Airways and Canadian North.
(Link: Read our previous story on Shamar Bennett’s road to the Niagara 2022 Canada Summer Games)
Bennett only learned he had made Team NWT on July 22 – and that quickly set the wheels in motion.
Canadian Tire Corporation has a partnership with the Canada Games Council and was looking for ways to support family and friends of athletes at the Games. When Sam Bougha, partnerships and revenue generation advisor for the Canada Games, learned of Bennett’s story, he brought it to the attention of CTC.
Once the NWT roster had been finalized, Bougha sprang into action. He called Campbell, and learned the family was initially planning to make the trip to Niagara, but once they crunched the numbers, felt it was better to save the money and put towards his education. Bennett will be attending Dalhousie University in Halifax, NS this September.
So CTC decided it would bring Bennett’s family to Niagara, funding the airfare, accommodations, transportation and some spending money. The whole thing was pulled together and finalized only in the last couple of weeks.
“We appreciate the team behind the team and that was the sentiment we were going for here, that these athletes don’t get here by themselves,” said Leslie Bradshaw, manager of sport partnerships at CTC. “There are so many people that help them get here, whether it’s parents, coaches, teachers; there’s a lot that goes into that. And we also know a lot of families can’t make it. They’re coming from all over Canada. … So we saw an opportunity here to help a family that couldn’t get here on their own, come here, surprise their athlete and actually be able to be here in person to support them.”