The Turks and Caicos Islands National Female and Male Teams that went to the Caribbean Football Union Under 14 Challenge Series returned to tumultuous fanfare at the Providenciales International Airport on Monday.
The welcoming party included Minister of Sports Hon. Rachel Taylor, along with a throng of parents.
While the boys did not make it past the group stage, the girls came home with a second-place finish, the first at any level male or female in the sport for this archipelago.
The girls, who were beaming with confidence heading into Sunday’s finale against the tournament’s overwhelming favourites Aruba were turned back 0-3 by the Dutch-speaking country.
Nonetheless, the FA head, as well as the coaching staff, deemed the finish a monumental achievement, seeing that it was the first time such glory was being achieved.
Head coach for the Under 14 Girls, Olivia Gravely, told NewslineTCI on arrival that the second-place finish was a matter of hard work and confidence on the part of her aggregation.
“Hard work pays off,” Gravely beamed. “These girls deserve everyone single minute they got celebrated. They worked their hardest,” she said.
Heading into the tournament, Gravely explained that some squad members showed signs of anxiety, but as the event wore on, they began to grow in confidence.
“They were nervous. Some were a bit scared. But after they realized their potential, they gained confidence and they worked their way through,” she revealed, adding that much more is expected from them going forward.
“This is just the beginning for them. They made history, but runners-up is just the beginning. We see them as top winners the next time we go in. These girls have a bright future. The national team is strong, and we are proud of the girls,” she said.
Gravely believes that the success of the local girls will definitely serve as a magnet for other girls to enrol in the programme.
“I definitely think this was an empowering moment for TCI girls in general. I think they inspired a lot of girls in our programme, to continue to work hard because they now see where their future lie and these girls now become role models for these girls coming up,” she said.
For her part, Minister Taylor believes that the female team’s success will serve as a watershed moment for especially football in the Turks and Caicos Islands. She also had high praises for the TCIFA.
“Let me take this opportunity to express profound thanks and gratitude to the Turks and Caicos Islands Football Association for their consistent and persistent dedication towards ensuring that practice continues even under the protocol of COVID-19,” she said.
“I think the dedication of the staff at the Football Association speaks testimony as to what can happen when our students are trained and given the necessary tools to work with. And I must congratulate them,” Taylor added.
The sports minister pointed out that the achievement by the Under 14 girls proves that the TCIFA is focusing on female football development just as they are doing with the males.
“I must congratulate them (TCIFA) too, because their focus is not just on males but also females, in the sport. You don’t normally see it in many other (local) sports.
“They went to the Dominican Republic, and they did well…very well actually. And history has been made because they placed second overall,” she reasoned.
Taylor also used the opportunity to congratulate TCIFA President Sonia Fulford-Missick, General Secretary Oliver Smith and the coaching staff for the feat.
“I want to thank them for their dedication towards Football in the Turks and Caicos Islands…and congratulations to all,” she said.