By Kirsten Dobler
June 11, 2015
Shortly before I left to come to Malawi we lost Toni Marciniak. I have tried to describe who Toni was to me in many ways but each way seems too short. Toni was a brilliant football (soccer) coach, hollering at us from the sidelines to get on our bikes, ensuring us of our abilities on the sidelines, and encouraging us in times of doubt. Rage was more than just a soccer team that played on the weekends. We travelled together, we warmed up in sync, and we played with a connection that I have not experienced on a football team since. Our success, even though we were so young at the time, had a large part in the ways that Toni, and Erros, coached us. As a player that definitely developed after the first season I can completely attest to the unconditional support that Toni gave me, and my love of the game. Toni’s presence in my life stretched past the field; as a father to three awesome people (sometimes I even thought that Chase had some Toni aspects) and a counselor at school that I know would always be available for a chat, but he came the most alive on the football pitch. It was here that we shared some amazing wins and some very, very tough losses. At the end of the day Rage is a part of my life that I will always look back on and smile, many parts in thanks to Toni.
I have been in Malawi for two weeks now and I have been thinking about Toni a lot this week. At the beginning of the week Marten began a week of football matches, so I have been watching a lot of football. Each day I think a little while longer about Toni and about football. As I stood on the sidelines today I began to think about football and the ways that it brings together communities. It is especially visible in Kasungu, the area that we are in, because each team brings with them their community. Men young and old line the sidelines with their arms folded as they watch the U20 players fight for village pride. Children are dancing on the sidelines waiting for a goal to be scored so they can run onto the field and celebrate. A sense of community that I have witnessed in no other location has come to life in a way that celebrates whole communities. I know that in Canada this is something that we might feel more when we are watching hockey, but I can’t help but imagine Toni standing on the sidelines here, watching the lads.
I have come to the realization of the importance of football in the world. Football is a language that translates into all languages. The objectives and the rules are universal, while the spirit is infectious. Sports are so critical in communities and they create bonds between members and the community. Every night our Campus field comes to life as people crowd the sidelines. Every night I smile when I think of how excited and proud Toni would be for me being here and to know that football is such an important element. On the very last game that we played as Rage, Toni gathered us together and asked us if we knew what carpe diem meant. Of course we were fifteen, so we didn’t know, and I remember how pinnacle it was for me. This was the closest that we came to provincials and as we circled around Toni and he expressed to us (in a very Robin Williams circa Dead Poets Society) that this was an opportunity for us to live in the moment. I have never played as hard as I did in that game. I remember so clearly so much of the game, most particularly when Julie scored the first goal and it was the first glimpse of our future as a team. Of course we all know of the tears that were shed at the end of that game, but carpe diem stayed.
There are many moments when I am running for student government at Bishop’s or deciding which European country that I am going to visit while au pairing in Italy that I think carpe diem. I am very sad that I was not able to come home to give Hills, Kate and Jord big hugs, but I know that the rest of the community was there. However I know that Toni would be proud and probably would love to hear about the influence of football, even in small villages of Malawi, Africa. I have recently began thanking my parents for raising me with the confidence to go all the places that I have gone, but I have many other people that I should also be thanking. Toni shared with us so much of himself, leaving everything that he shared with us to live on, both on and off the football pitch. Toni shaped us football girls with his leadership, his passion, and his belief in all of us. For that I am forever grateful. RIP Toni.
About the Blog
Since 2013, students participating in Transformative Praxis: Malawi have been writing blog posts reflecting on their experiences of participating in action research in Malawi. The original blog with the full archive can be found here