Honouring an athlete

Robin Short
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Soccer team hoists Erin Bursey’s Newfoundland flag with pride

Members of Newfoundland and Labrador’s female soccer team pose with the provincial flag at the Canada Games soccer facility in Sherbrooke, Que. This particular flag has extra special meaning to the team as it once belonged to Erin Bursey, who took it with her to the last Canada Summer Games in Prince Edward Island, where she represented Newfoundland in volleyball. Bursey, who went on to become captain of Memorial University’s women volleyball team, died in June of 2012 after being struck by a vehicle. Jackie Bursey, Erin’s mother, believed her daughter would have wanted the flag to go with Newfoundland athletes at these Games, so she gave it to the soccer team. — Photo by Robin Short/The Telegram

SHERBROOKE, Que. — Not all the best stories have the perfect ending.

It was supposed to be different for these girls in maroon and white, young, fit soccer players wearing Newfoundland’s colours at the 2013 Canada Summer Games.

They were, unfairly or not, regarded as one of the province’s few medals contenders in Sherbrooke.

A perfect win-loss record in Breen’s Jubilee Trophy soccer, the best women’s league back home.

The core group was part of a silver medal-winning team at the under-16 nationals just two years ago.

They had trained for the moment, but here in Quebec’s Eastern Townships, the moment never came.

So instead of vying for a medal Thursday, Newfoundland took to the synthetic turf on the grounds of Bishop’s University playing Saskatchewan for seventh and eighth place overall, a far cry from first, second, third — or even fourth — place.

But sometimes there’s more to a story than mere wins and losses.

In this instance, it has to do with a flag. Not just any flag, but a special Newfoundland flag, the one with the red, white, blue and gold geometrical design. You see, this flag, carried everywhere by the girls, brings with it special meaning.

Its history dates back only four years, back to the 2009 Canada Summer Games held in Summerside, P.E.I.

It belonged to a volleyball player, an undersized athlete whose heart and will to win overshadowed her small frame.

Erin Bursey would go on to shine on the volleyball court for Memorial University.

So commanding was her presence she was named

the varsity Sea-Hawks’ captain.

On the evening of June 26 last year, Erin Bursey was struck and killed by a car. She had turned 21 the day before.

Fast-forward eight or 10 months and a new, younger group of Newfoundland athletes was holding a fund-raiser, trying to raise some money to cover off a soccer trip to train for the Canada Games.

Jackie Bursey, Erin’s mother, is a friend to some of the soccer team’s parents and was invited to the charity event.

“I was going through a few things in Erin’s room, and I saw the flag,” Jackie was saying over the phone yesterday, “and I thought, what better thing to do than pass it on to another team?

“Erin would have loved that.”

Just as these soccer players have cherished the flag in Sherbrooke, Erin toted it everywhere in Prince Edward Island.

During the Games, Jackie and Glenn Bursey sat with the other parents, waving this flag and cheering on their daughters on the volleyball courts below.

It made no difference Jackie Bursey handed the flag to a soccer team. Erin, reminded her mom, played soccer, too.

Played a lot of sports, actually. Couldn’t get enough of them.

“She wouldn’t care what sport, just as long as it was going to Newfoundland athletes.”

Erin would be 22 now, a graduate with honours from the university’s psychology program.

Most of the girls on this 2013 soccer team are young, 17 or 18. There are a few 16-year-olds.

But they know well the story of Erin Bursey. Four of the girls — Laura Whelan, Noelle Stanford, Melissa Armstrong and Jessie Noseworthy — graduated from Bishops College, just as Erin once did.

Claire Skanes, the blond, blue-eyed centre-back on the team, has been the keeper of the flag for the week.

“It’s very important to us, extremely important,” Skanes said through tears this week. “It belonged to another Canada Games athlete. … Along with making ourselves proud and everyone else, we really want to make her proud and do her justice, her family …”

Back in St. John’s, Erin Bursey’s bedroom remains unchanged since that terrible day in late June 2012.

But every so often, Jackie Bursey will part with something that once belonged to her only daughter.

“Giving things away is hard — it breaks the heart — but you ask yourself, what do I need this for?

“And I know Erin would have loved for me to do that.”

There’s still lots left in Erin’s room, much of it sports-related, of course. There are trophies and medals and everything else.

When the opportunity presents itself, Jackie will part with more things, when she finds what she calls the perfect home for them.

But there’s something Jackie Bursey will probably never let go. It’s a book, a gift she gave Erin for her last birthday.

It’s a New York Times best-seller, “Before I Fall,” written by Lauren Oliver.

In it, the author asks, “What if you had only one day to live?”


Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor. He can be reached by email rshort@thetelegram.com.

Follow him on Twitter @TelyRobinShort.

Organizations: Bishops College, New York Times

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Canada, SHERBROOKE Quebec Saskatchewan Summerside Prince Edward Island.During

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Recent comments

  • Danette Stokes
    August 09, 2013 - 18:35

    Wow! This is very moving! As I was beginning to read this article and continue to read down through it, I was wondering where this article was going or going to take me. I never thought it was going to take me were it did. I know Erin from girls MUN volleyball and my son was a "really good friend" of Ern's. This will definitely will bring tears to the eyes of whoever reads this, including my own! WOW!!!

  • JMPA
    August 09, 2013 - 13:01

    A well written article that reveals the true nature of sport...its more than winning, its friendship and community, sharing and coming together, and enjoying their time. This honours Erin's memory and keeps her Spirit alive. Thank you to Erin's Mom for sharing her keepsakes and memories with the team.