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Why this Port Moody soccer tournament will have special meaning

The Reese Mueller memorial tournament honours a young goalie who died suddenly last summer when she was just 15.
Wendy Chisholm and Brittany Timko-Baxter take up a familiar position for Chisholm's daughter, Reese Mueller, who played goal for the Port Moody Soccer Club until she suddenly past away last July 26 at age 15. They've co-organized a special tournament Feb. 18 to honour Reese's memory.

Wendy Chisholm doesn’t want the brief life of her daughter, Reese Mueller, to be reduced to a statistic.

A new tournament named after Reese, to be hosted by the Port Moody Soccer Club (PMSC) on Feb. 18, will help.

Reese was just 15 when she passed away last July 26. The Grade 10 student at Heritage Woods Secondary School was one of nearly 2,300 lives lost last year to British Columbia’s poisoned drug supply.

But set those numbers aside, asks Chisholm. Reese was a talented athlete and beloved teammate with a big heart and indomitable spirit whose motto was, “I got you.”

Those were often the words Reese called to her teammates from her position guarding the net on PMSC’s Metro team. And when a match was over, she was usually the first player to pitch in to help gather equipment and roll the nets back into position, said the club’s technical director, Brittany Timko-Baxter.

Chisholm said Reese took to every sport she tried. She played basketball and volleyball. She surfed and skateboarded. By the time she was 11, she’d already earned her black belt in Tae Kwon Do. Just weeks before she died, she got her St. John Ambulance first aid certificate.

She just never left

Reese started playing soccer when she was nine. At that age, coaches like to give players a chance to try every position. When it was her turn to go in goal, she just never left, recalled Chisholm.

In her five years playing at PMSC, Reese’s acumen for goaltending eventually earned her a spot on the club’s Metro team, it’s highest level of competitive play.

But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, 2020, shutting down all organized sports for months and sending kids home from school to do their learning online, Reese was suddenly adrift.

Denied the structure and discipline she got from athletics and school, Reese struggled, Chisholm said.

“She felt disconnected. She was just a little lost.”

Reese started spending time at a nearby park, hanging out with a crowd Chisholm said might not have been the best friend group for her daughter.

Reese experimented with marijuana, then other drugs.

One bad dose cost her her life.

Chisholm can’t shake the anguish of losing her daughter to such an insidious, random killer.

“It’s heartbreaking,” she said. “You wonder, what’s the right thing to do in this situation. It’s one mistake, and you don’t get a do-over.”

Timko-Baxter said she was devastated when she heard about Reese’s sudden death. But she also knew it was important the young player’s contribution to the club and the players around her shouldn’t ba allowed to just fade away.

Timko-Baxter reached out to Chisholm and they began planning a special tournament to honour Reese.

Tournament to grow

At first it will only involve about 170 players from the club’s own U8-U12 boys and girls teams, but there’s hope it will grow in stature in coming years.

Matches will be played in a festival style, four players to a side with four games happening simultaneously on the pitch at Trasolini Field. There will be medals awarded and an opening ceremony at 9 a.m. and closing ceremony at 3:30 p.m.. Two food trucks will be on hand for refreshments and a silent auction of items like gift cards for local businesses, Vancouver Whitecaps tickets and even a signed jersey from the Canadian men’s national team that recently played in soccer’s World Cup, will help raise money for a scholarship in Reese’s name as well as PMSC’s program to assist families who can’t afford its registration fees.

Chisholm said a day filled with soccer matches and smiling faces will be the best way to honour Reese’s memory. But it will also be hard.

The lesson Chisholm hopes families will learn from the banners and posters proclaiming the Reese Mueller Memorial Tournament that will be hung around the pitch is that the toxic drug crisis is “tragic and real. If it can happen to Reese in this circumstance, it can happen to anyone.”

Timko-Baxter said the tournament will be an opportunity to bring Port Moody’s soccer community together in a way it’s never had to before, to show how much they care for one another.

“It’ll be a big day,” she said.

How to get help

If you think your child might be struggling with their mental health or drugs, Fraser Health has an office for its START program located in Port Moody. Call 1-844-START11 (1-844-782-7811)