Bermuda native Parris continuing his soccer odyssey in Wolfville
By John DeCoste '77
On a map, Pembroke, Bermuda and Wolfville, Nova Scotia are quite a distance apart. And that's not taking into account things like weather and a different culture, lifestyle and mindset.
The culmination of an approximately 15-year soccer career finds Pembroke native Ryan Parris in his final year at Acadia, and in a prominent role as a midfielder and team leader for the soccer Axemen.
Parris, who turned 21 earlier this year, said in a recent interview that he has been playing soccer – 'football' in Bermuda, as it is in much of the rest of the world – for "about 15 years."
In Bermuda, he "used to play for both my school team and a club team." School football "is played in the fall, and club soccer for the rest of the year" - though not in July or August, which is one of many things Parris has had to adjust to here in Canada, where soccer is now pretty much a year-round sport.
Parris already knew he wanted to continue his education and obtain a business degree, so "my last year in high school, I went away to boarding school in Port Hope, Ontario." In doing so, "I got to experience one bad Ontario winter, which ended up being a 'warm-up' for here."
Having decided to enroll at a Canadian university, Parris also thought he might be able to play varsity soccer. He emailed Axemen head coach Findlay MacRae, "asking if I could try out for the team."
He also had a tryout with Algoma University in Ontario, but he had "family ties" to Acadia - "six or seven of my family, including an uncle, his two children and a couple of other cousins, had all attended Acadia" - which helped him make his final decision.
Parris arrived in Wolfville in the fall of 2014 prepared to be an Acadia student, but with "no guarantees" of being a varsity soccer player. However, he "made the team my first year. I came off the bench for my first two games, but I've been a starter ever since."
He had started his soccer career as a centre back, but at the start of high school, "moved up to midfielder," and has remained there since. "I like being in the middle of things, and in control," he said, and the midfielder position, with its great versatility, has become a natural spot for him.
At the same time, "it's a very busy position. At the end of the game, you know you've been in a game."
The Axemen have steadily improved during Parris's time with the team. "My first year, we were fourth or fifth, then third. Last year, we were first in the regular season, lost to Cape Breton in the AUS final and made it to nationals."
The entire season was "a real experience for me," and the team's performance "a real achievement," and definitely something to build on for this season.
Asked the similarities between soccer in Canada and in Bermuda, Parris said, "the biggest differences I've found are the speed and the physicality of the game. "
Football tends to be played at a slower pace in Bermuda, and "it's definitely not as rough a sport at home. Soccer here kind of reminds me of the English league. You need to be in a lot better shape."
Parris sees his role on the field as controlling the midfield on defense and "getting the ball up to the strikers" in transition. "I like the feeling of controlling the ball," he said. "You're able to control what happens next."
He added, "I enjoy playing a team sport, and being part of a team. You come to rely on your teammates, and they rely on you." At the same time, "playing in the AUS final last year, and making it to nationals, was the highlight of my time here so far, maybe even the highlight of my entire career."
The Axemen started the 2017 season with two wins, a draw and one loss in their first four games. "The league as a whole definitely looks more competitive this season," Parris said. "When I started here, UNB was the team to beat. Now there are five or six good teams, including us," all good enough to contend for the conference title.
He confirmed, "our goal for this season is to finish first again, and this time, win the conference final. It's redemption time for us."
The Axemen "lost a lot of our backline" to graduation, including AUS Player of the Year and All-Canadian Andrew Snyder who both graduated and completed his five years of eligibility in 2016.
However, Acadia has "some new players back there who are doing a decent job so far," and hopefully can continue to do so as they gain varsity experience.
Asked if he sees himself as a team leader, Parris acknowledged, "I'd like to think, at this point of my career, I'm someone my younger teammates can look up to," and maybe see as a role model. "I'm not really a motivational kind of guy. I prefer to let my play speak for me."
Despite the loss of several key players from last season, Parris says the Axemen are arguably "better technically and skill-wise" than they were last season. The new defenders are showing good promise, and there are "a couple of good attackers as well."
The biggest thing is that "we still need to jell as a group. Once that happens, we could be better than last year." In particular, "it's good to have someone like (fifth-year striker) Matt Berrigan back, to serve as a leader up front and a team leader in general."
Parris is scheduled to graduate in May of 2018 with his degree in Business Administration, with a major in finance. He will likely resist the temptation to return for a fifth season of soccer at Acadia.
Next spring, though, won't be the end of his post-secondary education. "I'd hope to go on to an MBA, then go back to Bermuda and get a job there. There are lots of openings back home in that field."
His classes and soccer commitments aside, Parris has participated in extracurricular activities along with his teammates. "Our team has done a lot of community service activities over the years. I'm looking forward to doing whatever I can to enjoy my final year here."
He also spent one winter playing indoor soccer with Valley United. "In the summers, I've gone home, and they don't play soccer in Bermuda in the summer."
Parris admitted to having a few anxious moments during the recent spate on hurricanes in the Caribbean, but fortunately, "Bermuda wasn't really in the path of any of the storms."
He acknowledged, "I came to Acadia as much for the business program as for the soccer, but I've been impressed with what a great all-round school Acadia is, both academically and athletically."
In fact, he has "no regrets at all" over his choice of university. "I was just thinking the other day, I don't believe I could have chosen a better school, for the whole university experience."