Bluffs Advocate

In Memoriam

He was a passionate, committed person who always did everything for the right reasons

By Ian Roberts

            Mitch Forbes was the heart of Wexford Soccer, and the club wouldn't be the same without him. This was the condolence message I left for his family after his passing. There was no one like him and there will never be anyone quite the same. Mitch died on January 14, 2015 at the age of 65 years, after a brief battle with cancer. I got to know Mitch only in the last few years of his life, when he was the enthusiastic president of the soccer club, but his dedication to this sport and to making it enjoyable for children and women of all skill levels dates back much further.

I met Mitch when I volunteered along with my parents, who had been a part of the indoor house league division of the club for many years. Mitch gave each new person he met through the club a friendly welcome, and some of his enthusiasm definitely rubbed off on each and every soccer volunteer who knew him. It was his passion for soccer and for making it easily accessible and fun that fuelled his continued excitement for volunteering.

Mitch's involvement with Wexford dates back more than 30 years, to the early 1980s, when his sons were young children and he coached their teams. He remained in the club long after his children had grown older and were no longer playing soccer. At the time of his death, he had been president of the club for over 15 years. It was the enjoyment of teaching the game to generations of children that drove and encouraged him to stay around so long, when others who didn't have his level of commitment may have given up and walked away from volunteering.

Roy England, past treasurer of the club, who has been involved with Wexford since its founding in 1967, worked with Mitch for the entire time that he was involved with Wexford, and he says that Mitch always did everything for the right reasons—meaning that he wasn't involved just to gain personal recognition. He didn't set out to revolutionize the game of soccer or make a fortune. He simply wanted to keep the club going and ensure that everything was always organized and went smoothly so that there would be a place for children to play soccer in an environment where fun and learning were encouraged.

Roy called Mitch his "steady hand over the years," always there to lend help, no matter the task or the potential difficulty in solving any particular problem. Mitch tried his best to resolve disputes and disagreements that came up within the club, and everyone was always pleased to have a chat with him. He endeavoured to find a middle ground when there were those who found it hard to compromise. There were no bad words to be said about Mitch Forbes; he was admired by all.

Those in the Scarborough soccer community who knew Mitch gathered to remember him on January 31 of this year. On display at this celebration of his life were mementos of some of the memories that he had made over the span of his involvement with Wexford. A wonderful collection of photos showed some of the many different teams he coached over the years, and showed just how many children and adults had gotten to know him and experience his enthusiasm, optimism, and warmth. The number of people who attended this gathering was a testament to the breadth of the impact Mitch had within this community. Mitch might have thought that he didn't deserve all this recognition, but truly, there was no one else like him in the club; he was a one-of-a-kind man. When someone who has influenced so many people in such a positive way dies, you can't help but look back at everything that he accomplished.

Over many years, Mitch dealt with some of the day-to-day aspects of running the club. He helped to secure the rental spaces where soccer would be played, and he had to deal with both the competitive rep division of the club, where players played against other soccer leagues, and with the house league division, which was designed to give players of all skill levels a chance to play in a friendly setting. He also scheduled the referees who oversaw each game and he worked at other tasks, such as painting the lines at the Ashtonbee hydro fields, and securing suppliers for uniforms.

Mitch's heart though, was in the house league, as Roy England told me. He recognized and saw the place for the rep division of the league, but that was not his passion. His passion was watching children grow as they developed an appreciation for the game in a learning environment that welcomed players of all skills. He also ensured that women got a chance to play, reserving space for those over age 18 to play in a house league format at the Scarborough Soccer Centre. He made sure that this part of Wexford soccer was not ignored, when others may not have paid much attention to it.

He particularly enjoyed refereeing the youngest children in the indoor season, from November through to March. He often brought his father's old workbench stool with him to sit on at breaks and at half-time when he refereed games in the U8 division (six- and seven-year-olds). This stool was on display at the celebration of his life, and symbolized Mitch in his element, refereeing, while at the same time, teaching and helping the children— like a father figure. He enjoyed explaining the rules of the game to these young children, but also made sure to stress to all around him that it was just a game, and that there was no need to put extra pressure on players to perform well.

Mitch knew that as a referee, he had to be both fair and encouraging to players. He did not get annoyed when children didn't know what he meant by a particular call in the game. He always tried his best to explain the rules of the game in a friendly way. He made sure that the coaches and players on opposing teams shook hands at the end of the game, and he also made sure that everyone, coaches and players alike, had a fun time. Everyone enjoyed chatting with him at half-time, but he did have to be reminded not to chat too long, as there was always a tight schedule, and there were always many games to be played in a single day. The other referees who worked with Wexford admired and were amazed by his passion for the game and his knowledge, gained from many years of experience. The referees were quite affected by his passing, as there were many among them who had worked very closely with him, especially in recent years.

During his working life, Mitch was involved in the field of life insurance, and it was very sad that he was taken from us just as he was able to begin to enjoy his retirement. (Mitch retired from his day job a couple of years ago.) I am sure that he was looking forward to spending many more years continuing with Wexford, being a kind of "jack-of-all-trades" doing all kinds of tasks, respected by all, and imparting his knowledge to generations of children playing soccer. It is always hard to deal with death, especially when it comes unexpectedly and suddenly, as it did in this case. Just because Mitch passed away suddenly does not mean that he will be forgotten or cast aside. There will always be a place for him in the minds of those he inspired and helped encourage over the years.

In the future, the club plans to commemorate Mitch and let his legacy live on by continuing to replicate his passion and excitement for the game and making it accessible to everyone, perhaps through some kind of sportsmanship award or by allowing those who otherwise could not afford it a chance to sign up to play in the club.

I was very glad to have known Mitch Forbes and will miss seeing him at Wexford soccer games and gatherings. The club will pick up and move on and others will take over the duties that he once performed, but his impact can never be erased. Wexford benefitted greatly from his many years of volunteering, and I think that the lives of many will be just a bit richer for having known this exceptional volunteer.