Harrison Shrimpton was among the first to kick around a ball as part of the Whistler Youth Soccer Club (WYSC).
From those beginnings as a five-year-old, Shrimpton carved out a career as a steady defender with the University of British Columbia Okanagan Heat, including helping the team with a successful transition to Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS).
Shrimpton, who finished his collegiate career last fall, fondly recalled his time growing up in the WYSC, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary.
"That's where I first started playing the game and was able to develop my huge love and passion for the game," he said. "That's something that they really focus on. They want you to enjoy your time and enjoy your teammates and the beautiful game and the beautiful town of Whistler."I have them to thank for that."
The young Whistler players sometimes got to go on a road trip north to Pemberton to play against some of their Sea to Sky compatriots. Those were among the highlights for Shrimpton.
"The highlight definitely was whenever we were able to get together with Pemberton, whether it was a camp going there or them coming to us or playing against each other, having a bit of a rivalry and some competition in the game was huge," said Shrimpton, who was a forward until his teens, when he shuffled back to defence. "It's always pushing you to become a better player and improve yourself and developing that love for the game even more."
WYSC president P.J. O'Heany is proud of how far the club has come in two decades, starting small and growing naturally.
"It brings all segments of our community together," he said. "It was cross-training for skiing and a great pastime all the way to today where we've got 500 kids and 70 coaches.
"Of course, it's the major team sport in town. For a town that has individual sports coming out their ears, team sports are a good thing in certain realms."
As for where the club hopes to go in future years, O'Heany said the WYSC and Resort Municipality of Whistler are still working on an artificial turf field, which would minimize damage to the existing grasses and allow for much more soccer action.
"It would increase our programming and allow us to play a lot earlier in the year and a lot later in the year," he said, noting soccer had already stopped for the season to protect the fields. "We've grown so much now that we're playing three times more than the fields can cope with. Despite the municipality doing its best trying to keep up with it, they just can't... Grass grows by the inch but dies by the foot.
"If we can get an artificial turf pitch, then we don't ruin the turf and we can play on it a lot more per day."
O'Heany also explained the club likely won't produce a star professional all on its own, as players with higher ambitions go for tougher competition in Vancouver. He highlighted a partnership with Pemberton that allows players to continue to play in high school, especially as many athletes across the sporting spectrum either push harder or in many cases, scale back.
"We can certainly offer them a lot more to do within the community and then they can keep playing in adult leagues," he said. "We try to bridge that gap between U14 and adult, even for those who aren't stars of the game and aren't trying to set the world on fire, but they have very good skills, they have confidence with the ball and they want to keep playing that sport."
In celebration, the club is set to host a gala this Saturday, Oct. 22 at the Whistler Conference Centre. For more information, visit www.whistlersoccer.com.