The only way that the more than 50 North Shore athletes acting as ball girls and flag carriers for FIFA Women's World Cup games being played at BC Place this month could get any closer to the action would be if they were playing in the tournament themselves.
That, by the way, is something that most of the players from the West Vancouver Soccer Club and North Shore Girls Soccer Club no doubt dream of, but for now they're having the experience of their young lifetimes down on the pitch standing side-by-side with some of the world's top players.
Kendra Kubin is one of the 24 players, all aged 12-17, representing the West Vancouver Soccer Club serving as flag carriers before kickoff at each World Cup game played at BC Place. The North Shore News caught up with her just moments after carrying the flag for Japan, the defending World Cup champs, before their matchup against Cameroon.
"It was so cool," the 15-year-old said. "It was nerve-racking! You really don't want to trip or anything like that. That would not be very fun."
It was Kubin's second time on the pitch that day she also carried the flag for Switzerland in a match against Ecuador. Both Japan and Switzerland went on to win.
"I think our flag carrying was so good they were just inspired," she said with a laugh, adding that this is a memory that will last a long, long time. "I've been looking forward to it for weeks. I've been telling everybody about it. . . . It was a great experience. It was really cool to know you're on national TV. It was really an honour to do that."
Twenty-eight members of the North Shore Girls Soccer Club, all aged 15-18, are even closer to the action, acting as BC Place ball girls for the entire tournament.
"If you look down while you're sitting in the stands at BC Place, every one of those girls that's a ball retriever around the field is a North Shore Girls player," said club vice-president Dominique Falls. "They have players that are two feet away from them asking for a ball."
The ball girls have a fairly simple job — they make sure there's a new ball ready to go whenever one goes out of play — but it can be a vitally important one.
"How many goals are scored in the last five minutes and in extra time? It's really important to keep that ball going," said Falls. "If the ball goes out at this level, the ball should be able to go back in really quickly. It's a really simple task, but there is pressure on that kid to make sure the minute the ball goes out, they don't go chase the ball, they give the ball they have in their hands to the player and then go chase the ball. It keeps that game going."
Betty Dodson, a co-ordinator with the West Vancouver Soccer Club, said she's heard from parents and players that just being on the field with the World Cup players has helped these girls build their own confidence and self-esteem. "Just to have the honour of participating in a monumental and huge event in sport in Vancouver, it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience for these young people," she said. "If you're a young girl involved in soccer and you follow it at all, I think you understand the importance of what the World Cup is. To be able to be a part of it — it's magnificent."
The biggest prize is yet to come for some of these young players. Tournament organizers will select the top ball girls and flag bearers — those who show poise and professionalism under pressure — to work during playoff games, including the final scheduled for July 5 at BC Place. There's even the possibility that Team Canada will make it all the way to the final, which would allow these lucky North Shore girls to stand shoulder to shoulder with their soccer heroes like Christine Sinclair and Erin McLeod on the sport's biggest stage.
"I would probably start crying," Kubin said when asked what it would be like to carry Canada's flag for the final. "I'm a super big fan of all of them. That would be really, really cool."