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Soccer still plays a big role in the life of Mark Sweetapple


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CORNER BROOK - The name Sweetapple is synonymous with soccer in this area, thanks in large part to Doug and his son Mark.

While Doug continues to donate his energy to the sport here in Corner Brook, Mark has moved on to Dartmouth, N.S. where he works as a school teacher and, of course, still finds the time to hit the pitch.

"I'm still playing," Sweetapple told The Western Star. "They started a Maritime league here, this is the second year, so it was basically our Nova Scotia league - which is similar to the Challenge Cup league in Newfoundland - and they've added two teams from New Brunswick and a team from Prince Edward Island.

"The team I played on last year won our provincials and hosted the nationals and we ended up playing St. Lawrence in the bronze-medal game and they beat us 2-1," he added. "So it's pretty similar to the calibre of that league."

Currently a defender with the Halifax City team, Sweetapple is an accomplished coach. He's guiding the Under-16 Nova Scotia girls' team and was actually the director of the National Training Centre in Halifax for three years, up until last month when the job was made into a full-time position and he couldn't make that major of a commitment.

"Basically the top kids from each province, when they go to national tournaments, they get scouted by youth national team coaches," explained Sweetapple. "They go into this program where they train three or four times a week and then about four or five times a year players from centres in the other provinces gather here and a national coach comes down to monitor their progress.

"My main job was to coach the Nova Scotia players and then liaison with the other Atlantic provinces and organize things when all the other provincial players came in," he added. "You see a lot of talented kids and get exposed to a lot of national coaches and see what they do. From a coaching point of view, it was great."

Born and raised in Corner Brook, Sweetapple graduated from Herdman Collegiate in 1992 and, during his university years, returned during the summer to play and coach. He was a member of the last western team to compete at the Challenge Cup, but eventually moved to Nova Scotia to teach in 2002. He was back home two weeks ago to run a coaching clinic and was impressed with how the sport has progressed in the area in which he grew up.

"It's pretty healthy in terms of when you look at the senior men's league - you have seven teams in the league and that's a pretty healthy league for an area the size of the west coast," he said. "With the new field (Wellington Street Complex) being built, that will have a big impact on soccer in the area.

"It will allow them to extend their season," he continued. "They'll be able to start earlier and play longer. They'll have less cancellations throughout the year because weather won't be as big a problem."

The new field may also fuel the resurrection of a western representative for the Challenge Cup.

"The players in Corner Brook were good enough to play in that league and I think they still are," he said. "The biggest problem was travel. All our games were an eight-hour drive away and it takes its toll on you. The new field could make a difference because the location is great and it would be good for getting fans in to watch."

The British invasion of professionals such as Ian Marshall and Chris Hodges also had major ramifications on the local program, according to Sweetapple.

"When you have people of that quality working with the players and putting in that structure and professionalism into the youth programs, it can only help."

A player for as long as he can remember and a coach since he was 15, Sweetapple said he plans on playing for a while yet, but coaching is something he'll likely do forever.
"I prefer playing - nothing beats playing," he said. "I enjoy the coaching, but I guess I'll always be able to coach as I get older, but as you get older you can't always play."

The 34-year-old has no plans on moving back home anytime soon, but is hoping to make a special visit to St. John's soon if all goes according to plan.

"The National Challenge Cup is in St. John's this year, so I'd certainly like if our team could win provincials again and be able to go home and play in that," he said. "There are three of us from Newfoundland on the team and we're all hoping we can pull it out again this year."

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