Celebrating the Life of a Young Futsaller
This piece is dedicated to the entire Toronto Spanish community, the brotherhood that is futsal and soccer, Lorenzo Redwood, and especially Nerio Valdez.
Toronto- The older I get, the more I find myself thinking about death. I think most people do. Not in a suicidal way or anything as for the most part I quite enjoy the life I have. But in that comtemplative way, the moments when you stare out far enough to get lost and quietly wonder to yourself “When I go, will I really have made a positive impact on the world? How many people would actually celebrate my life?”
After leaving a celebration/memorial for Ismael Nerio Valdez yesterday evening I walked back towards my car and thought about how amazing it is that a 17 year old boy in such a short time frame could generate such a loving and heartfelt response from an enitre community. Humbled is the proper adjective.
For those of you who did not know Nerio, it’s alright, I didn’t either. My experience with him was simply seeing him at futsal tournaments in and around Toronto. But a lot of people knew him, respected him, and loved him dearly. Unfortunately for the wrong reasons more people learned his name last week when it was discovered that Nerio was murdered in a hydro field in the northwest part of the city.
His body was discovered on August 2nd and from what I’ve heard from friends and read through media reports, Nerio was confronted by a group of four and an argument ensued. The group viciously assaulted him and shot him to death. I heard about it from watching the news and thinking “Damn, I think that’s the kid that played some great futsal? 17? Really?”
As the week went on, I noticed many of my friends on Facebook had messages and tributes on their pages for ‘Negrito’, one of Nerio’s many nicknames. There are currently two groups of Facebook with close to 2000 members between them.
While I was on my way to watch a CSL match in North York, I received a call from one of Canada’s national futsal players, Roy Blanche, who told me about a tournament fundraiser that was happeneing the next day to raise money for the Valdez family to help cover the funeral costs. He asked me if I’d like to come out and support it. “Absolutely, see you tomorrow,” I said. When I got to the game I found out that Nerio also happened to be a reserve player on the North York Astros. They were classy enough to honour him with a moment of silence.
Upon arrival for the fundraiser I was blown away by the huge support. Eloy Alfaro FC owner Lorenzo Redwood, one of Nerio’s coaches, was the brainchild of the event and it seemed as if the entire Spanish population of Toronto was in attendance. The event was held at Firgrove Elementary School in the Jane and Finch region (northwestern Toronto) and started at 10am. There had been a raging thunderstorm that morning but no one had left, in fact support for the event only grew stronger as the day went on.
There must’ve easily been 1000 people there and all were actively involved in the fundraising events in one way or another. There was an outdoor soccer tournament that each player paid $10 to be a part of. The field looked as if it hadn’t been cut in years and you could barely tell where the boundary lines were, yet not a single complaint from the players and if you’ve ever played against the Spanish, you know they’re a vocal bunch. Adjacent to the field is a small court where 5 a side games normally take place. It was there that they held another tournament that was described to me by one player as ‘modified futsal rules’ while others compared it to ‘Ecuadorian jail soccer.’ The latter is a better description. Games were at times chippy with agressive play, but again no complaints and only respect for one another. Even the referees donated their time to the cause.
A few tents were set up and housed entertainment, which was provided by local artist DigiDon, Nerio’s cousin, who couldn’t be much older than he was. A ton of T-shirts bearing Nerio’s smiling face and the words ‘Negro Pele’, another of his nicknames, on the back were being sold for $10, while a raflle that included prizes ranging from flat screen televisions to 3 litre bottles of rum was quite popular. It seemed as if everyone had donated something in order to help raise money for the Valdez family in covering their funeral costs.
It was a truly touching affair that certainly was about celebrating a young man’s life, and if the other events for the memorial weren’t evident of that then this next moment was. About 50 people, each with a white helium ballon in hand, gathered in the centre of the ‘futsal’ court to give one last unified show of respect for the teen before releasing the balloons high into the air.
Though my last name is Fernandes, I’m not Spanish. One thing is for sure though: when I die I’d like to have my memorial in the Spanish way – full of life, passion, smiles, community, and if I am fortunate enough, a soccer or futsal game will ensue.