By John DeCoste
From humble beginnings, the Gunn Baldursson Memorial women’s soccer tournament grew into one of the largest of its kind in Eastern Canada.
The 25th anniversary edition of the popular all-women’s tournament takes place July 6-8, based in New Minas, but as in past years, making use of fields in various locations throughout Kings County.
With the success of the tournament over the years, it is sometimes difficult to remember that its inception was rooted in tragedy – the death of Gunnhildur (Gunn) Baldursson in an automobile collision in November 1987.
Following the tragic death of the multi-talented Acadia student athlete – an honours student, musician and all-Canadian soccer player – Soccer Nova Scotia started plans to organize a memorial tournament in her honour.
Given Baldursson’s connection to Acadia, Soccer Nova Scotia, which coordinated the tournament for its first three years, chose to hold the event in Wolfville, making use of both town and university facilities.
In 1991, Acadia took over the responsibility of hosting the tournament. Then-Axettes soccer coach Laura Sanders had become involved in the tournament the previous year, and James Sanford, who had started working at Acadia earlier that year, was asked by athletic director Don Wells to serve as co-chair with Sanders.
Sanford recalls the inaugural tournament in 1988 included 35 teams, and was held on the Acadia Tower and Dyke fields in Wolfville. The number of teams increased to 42 in 1989 and then to 45 in 1990.
That year, the Horton High School fields were added to the list of venues. The next year, the tournament started using the Wolfville Rotary field as well as the fields at Evangeline Middle School in New Minas.
In subsequent years, the tournament made use of fields from Wolfville to Somerset, including Port Williams, Canning, Centreville, Kentville and Coldbrook as the tournament steadily grew to a high point of 200 teams in 2003.
Sanford served as tournament coordinator until 1998, when Eric Cederberg, an Acadia student turned employee, took over, ran it for 10 years and according to Sanford, “was able to create renewed enthusiasm for the event.”
“One year, we had a team from Indianapolis. There have been teams from Calgary, and several from Ontario,” Cederberg recalled.
Newfoundland “was a great draw for a while,” driven by some coaches in that province with Nova Scotia and Acadia connections.
“The Newfoundland teams tended to introduce Newfoundland girls to Acadia, and as a result, several of them ended up coming here for school. Lana North (now Burns) and Raylene Dunn are just two examples.”
Sanford recalls the first U.S. entry in 1992, making the tournament an international affair. In 1994, Gunn Baldursson’s parents attended the tournament and took part in the opening ceremonies – the first of several times Baldursson family members have been in attendance.
“One year,” Cederberg recalls, “we had the national U-18 women’s team here to play a game (against Mexico) during the tournament. Soccer Nova Scotia organized it and we hosted. We had to bring in bleachers because everyone had to be seated.”
For the 20th anniversary, an U-14A girls’ team from Baldursson’s native Iceland travelled to Nova Scotia and took part in the tournament, winning their division.
For Acadia, Cederberg says, the event wasn’t as much a fundraiser as it was about elevating the profile of the university and providing a fitting memorial for Baldursson.
“My idea was to make it a tournament different than any other of its kind,” he said.
Some of the special touches included cash prizes to the Tier 1 winners (the Tier 2 winners got the equivalent in equipment), Player of the Game awards and commemorative t-shirts, which became a highly sought after commodity.
Throughout his tenure, Cederberg said he tried to stay true to the original intention.
“We were always looking for ways to recognize Gunn directly,” he said.
“In the early years, many of the participants had actual connections with her – they had known her personally, or had played with or against her. That got further away as the years went on. It got to be more of a challenge to keep her memory alive.”
To Sanford, the most enjoyable aspect of his involvement was the opportunity to associate with “all the wonderful individuals” from the Acadia and local soccer communities who believed in and supported the event.
There was, he says, “always a genuine and profound respect for the tournament by the players, coaches, officials and parents. That came through in the multitude of conversations that occurred each tournament weekend and in the follow-ups after.”
Cederberg credits current tournament coordinator Julie MacRae, who took over in 2008, for keeping the tournament active and successful.
While not as large as it once was, the Baldursson tournament remains a going concern entering its 26th year, and a fitting tribute – and memorial – to the remarkable young woman for whom it is named.
The 25th anniversary tournament will feature 126 women’s teams in 12 divisions. For more information on this year’s tournament, including a full schedule and information on Gunn Baldursson, visit www.gunnbaldursson.ca.