A Red Deer girl is looking to take her soccer skills to the next level by joining the FC Edmonton Girls’ REX program.
When Toni Gill, 14, heard she earned a spot in the program, she couldn’t contain her excitement, she said.
“I had just woke up, looked at my email and I saw a message from the program director … and it said I was invited to be a part-time player, so I just ran into my mom’s room and started jumping on the bed,” said Gill, a Grade 9 Destiny Christian School student.
Gill was goalkeeper for the under-13 and under-14 Alberta North teams the last two years. Between her performance with those teams and at a REX combine in June, she was invited to participate in the six-month REX program, which began in Edmonton on Sept. 11.
The program has weekly exhibition matches, with multiple training and gym sessions in between. The players will receive report cards to measure their development.
Gill will play for the Red Deer Renegades competitive girls’ squad next season even though she’s in the REX program. With her being a part-time member, she has the flexibility to do so, she said.
Her goal is to play for the Canadian national soccer team.
“I think that’s every girls’ dream. It’d be amazing if I could get that far,” she said.
Most players in the program, which falls under the Canada Soccer Association Women’s EXCEL program, are from Edmonton. Being able to represent Red Deer is exciting, said Gill.
“I was the first person in Central Alberta to make the program. It’s cool to know I’m an example of what other girls from Red Deer could do,” she said.
Kim Vandermeer, Red Deer City Soccer Association president, said she’s happy a Renegades player has the opportunity to train in Edmonton.
“The REX program will give her exposure to national coaches,” said Vandermeer. “She’s definitely a leader on the field and she works hard and is very dedicated to the sport.”
The popularity of girls’ soccer is decreasing in Alberta, said Vandermeer. There were 480 girls registered for outdoor soccer this year, which was down from 621 the year before. Indoor soccer went from 221 players in the 2015-16 season, to 181 in 2016-17.
There is also some concern regarding the viability of the competitive girls’ Renegades program, she added.
“It seems to be a trend and we’re trying to reverse it,” Vandermeer said. “It’s important girls stay in sport to maintain a healthy active lifestyle.”
Toni Gill said she hopes her success can help reverse the trend.
“I think it’s definitely possible people see my story and that more girls consider trying out the sport and seeing how it is,” she said.