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Squamish Nation stars play soccer for Spain

FOR Lyle Reginald, a man who spent the last 23 years of his life cheering on his children at every opportunity, there is only one drawback to having two of his daughters head off to Spain to play semipro soccer against some of Europe's best players:

FOR Lyle Reginald, a man who spent the last 23 years of his life cheering on his children at every opportunity, there is only one drawback to having two of his daughters head off to Spain to play semipro soccer against some of Europe's best players: he can't be there to watch.

It's not that the North Vancouver father simply enjoys watching his kids play sports. It's that he needs to watch. It's who he is, and it's the foundation of his family. Lyle, himself a star athlete in his younger days, grew up with no one watching him. It's a feeling his five children have never known.

"It was the best time ever, watching these kids grow up and play sports," Lyle says as he flips through a collection of photographs featuring his daughters Rhoda, 23, and Robyn, 18, in various uniforms. "You can ask anybody that knows us, we're always together. Everybody is always there, always together. I wish we could be in Spain right now."

The talented sisters left for Valencia's C.C.F. Maritim earlier this month and have already appeared in three games, Robyn playing every game in centre defence and Rhoda in midfield notching two goals and three assists.

"I'm surprised Lyle hasn't gone over there a couple of times already," Doug Abercrombie, a family friend and the former Capilano University women's soccer coach, says with a laugh. Instead Lyle is here Skyping with the girls every other day, learning about their games and their Spanish lessons through online conversations.

It's tough on Lyle but it's worth it - the girls are living out a dream. In the process, they might also be providing inspiration for an entire Nation of children searching for someone to watch, something to dream about.

. . .

Lyle Reginald was born to a Swedish father he never met and a mother from the Squamish Nation who sent him and his older brother off to St. Mary's Mission and Residential School in Mission, B.C., 70 kilometres away from their hometown of North Vancouver. As a First Nations child with blond hair, Lyle heard it from both sides.

"I was called 'white boy' in the residential school and then when I was out of residential school they were calling me 'chug' and 'native' and 'wagon burner' and stuff like that," he says.

A star in several sports - a soccer club in Mission picked him up, an unheard of practice for a child from the residential school - Lyle can't recall ever having his mother or stepfather watch him play a game.

He was not, however, alone. At school his brother Norman Guerrero, older by two years, shielded him from harm.

"I think he took the brunt of it," says Lyle. "He looked out for me and he got in a fair bit of scraps - he was a pretty tough guy and he knew how to take care of business. He wouldn't let anybody pick on me and he didn't take any crap himself."

School actually wasn't too bad, says Lyle, with food on the table, a brother looking out for him and the opportunity to earn a name on the sports field

"I think, because (my brother and I) were such good athletes, people learned to respect us pretty quick," he says. "For me it was an OK experience. It's never great to be away from your mom and dad . . . but it was something we had to deal with and we did. We had each other."

One day in Grade 5 Lyle was taken out of class and told that he needed to go see his mother who was sick, hospitalized after long years of alcoholism. He and his brother arrived home on a Saturday afternoon and were told they would get to see her at the hospital the next day. Sunday morning there was a knock on their door - their mother was dead.

Age 10, and Lyle's biological parents were both gone. Again, however, he was not entirely alone. On her deathbed Lyle's mother asked his stepfather to bring the children home under one roof. He agreed.

"He rented a house on Third and Chesterfield and we stayed there," says Lyle. "Me and my older brother delivered newspapers for extra money."

Their stepfather, Robert Duplisse, worked hard to support the family.

"He really helped us out. He was the one who showed us that if you wanted something in life you had to work for it and you had to believe in yourself."

But hard work meant Duplisse was away from home all the time.

"My older sister, who's five years older than I am, had to bring up myself and my two younger brothers and my older brother. That was my family."

No father, no mother. A brother, a stepdad and a sister doing what they could to keep it going. It all left an impression on young Lyle.

When he met his wife Nadeen and they had children of their own - three sisters Rhoda, Tallia and Robyn and then the two boys, Lyle Jr. and Ty - Lyle Sr. decided things would be different for those kids than they were for him.

"It was really important that they have an identity, which I didn't have," he said. "I knew I wasn't going to put my kids through that, we were going to have a nice place to stay, food all the time, new clothes on our backs."

. . .

It's a road game in Kamloops for Doug Abercrombie's Pacific Coast League women's soccer team and there's trouble. Lyle is an assistant coach and Rhoda is on the team.

"I get to the Budget Rent a Car to pick up the cars and Lyle is there and we start counting to find out how many people we've got going, and we're way short," says Abercrombie. "We've got like nine players."

Lyle has the solution. Wife Nadeen and underage daughter Robyn are hastily signed up and are piling into the cars and on their way to Kamloops with the team.

Nadeen plays goal while Rhoda and Robyn star out front and Lyle cheers on from the sidelines.

"The Reginalds supplied three players out of the 11 that we had - and we only had 11," says Abercrombie with a laugh. "We lost, but it was a really fun experience. . . . Otherwise, quite honestly, we would have been forfeiting the game."

That's how his family works, says Lyle. The Reginalds spend their lives playing together and being there for each other.

It started with the kids on the sidelines watching dad play. At age 32 Lyle took an amazing leap, signing up for classes at Capilano College and joining the men's soccer team.

He not only played, he starred, helping the team win a national championship, setting up the winning goal in the final and earning first team all-tournament honours. Abercrombie, who guided the Capilano women to a national title that same year, remembers celebrating the wins with Lyle.

"He was 32 and the rest of the kids were all in their 20s. Him and I sat in the corner of a techno bar having a nice cold beer after the nationals. . . . We just sat in the corner having a nice quiet beer because it was too noisy to do anything else."

Soon Lyle's kids were on teams of their own, often with Lyle as the coach. Even if he wasn't the coach, he was there.

"I had to watch them play, I couldn't miss it for the world," he says. "I had to be at every game."

"You don't really see families out there like ours - our father is our best friend, and will always be our best friend," Rhoda says in an email from Spain. "We do everything together, when one of us has a soccer game, or baseball game, we all go watch them. We are always here for each other. And he has raised us to be that way."

Lyle helped legendary North Shore soccer instructor Saibo Talic found the European Football School, and both Rhoda and Robyn excelled under their guidance.

Rhoda played for one of the first Whitecaps youth teams, once travelling to Chicago for a tournament, and helped Sutherland secondary win a provincial title. Robyn earned a story in the North Shore News at age seven when she scored more than 130 goals in 30 games. She then joined the B.C. provincial team at the age of 10, a year younger than the team's normal minimum.

The family could often be found on the field at the foot of Capilano Road. Lyle, a program co-ordinator with Squamish Nation Recreation, ran a Friday Night Soccer program for Squamish Nation youth.

"The boys always wanted to do boys against girls," he says.

"They didn't realize that Rhoda and Robyn and a few other girls could play soccer. I don't think they ever beat the girls."

Rhoda went on to play a year in Germany after high school before spending a season playing for Abercrombie at Capilano. Both sisters toured with the European Football Schools' team, including a visit to Spain where a few teams took notice.

When Robyn graduated from Sutherland this year the way was paved for both sisters to live out a dream and play together in Europe. Their Spanish club doesn't pay them but does supply them with food as well as an apartment to live in. They saved up all year to pay for the rest of their expenses.

"I was on the provincial team travelling and stuff, and I realized that soccer is what I wanted to do and travel and go somewhere and play," Robyn said before the sisters left for Spain. "Now I have the opportunity. . . . I'm so excited."

. . .

The Reginalds have deep roots in the North Shore's Squamish Nation community.

Many Squamish Nation children know Rhoda well - she works alongside her dad as the junior program co-ordinator for the Nation's Chief Joe Mathias Centre, running events to keep kids active year-round. Robyn is there often as well, spending her high school summers working for her sister as a youth camp leader.

On Robyn and Rhoda's last day as leaders of Squamish Nation Recreation's summer fun camp last month, a couple of attendees drew a picture of all of the councillors. There were Robyn and Rhoda side by side, kicking a ball back and forth in the picture. The kids know Rhoda and Robyn are talented - they're the soccer sisters.

Sept. 16 was supposed to be the first session in a new year of Friday Night Soccer at the field on Capilano Road but it was cancelled. A memorial was going on next door at the Chief Joe Mathias Centre. Another suicide.

That, sadly, is how things are going these days, says Lyle.

"It's not a good feeling right now on the reserve. I think what (the kids) are looking for is role models - someone to step up and lead our younger kids in the proper direction."

Lyle understands his children have had opportunities many of the other kids who show up for Squamish Nation recreation events could hardly dream of. The opportunities are there for many of the kids to expand their horizons just as they were for Rhoda and Robyn, but many First Nations families are reluctant to take them, says Lyle, adding that he has known many talented athletes who never pursued their sports to play for a high-level club team or chase a college scholarship.

"They're a little afraid to jump that fence and go into the big world against the other competitive players," says Lyle. "It is the parents that are letting them down, that aren't finding the time to get them that experience."

When Rhoda and Robyn return home after their season in Spain they hope to help change that. In addition to pursuing tryouts with the Vancouver Whitecaps and the Canadian National team, they say they'll be sharing their passion with First Nations children on the Squamish Reserve and beyond.

"We would love to go around to all of the First Nations communities and just talk to them about our experiences that we've had as First Nations women and just tell them that there are other things outside of their communities that they can join," says Rhoda. "There are soccer camps around that can take you to Europe if you want, or give you that extra training to get to where you want to be."

Lyle Reginald was sent away from his reserve as child, forced to attend school in another city. Years later his daughters have left as well, but on their own terms with their heads held high. And when they come back they may just be ready to do great things on and off the field. Whatever it is they end up doing - whether it's in front of a stadium full of waving flags or a neighbourhood park full of squealing children - they know they'll have at least one fan there, watching with great pride.

Next week: Ustlahn Social Society