If she could, Michelle McPhie would adopt both Erica Lampert and Carl Vandekraats. That’s how highly McPhie’s late husband, Neil, thought of both soccer players.
Lampert and Vandekraats are the recipients of the Thompson Okanagan FC’s Neil McPhie Scholarships, awarded to graduating TOFC athletes that move on to a university education and playing career.
Lampert, from Kelowna, and Vandekraats, from North Vancouver by way of Kelowna’s Okanagan Mission Secondary, are both first-year players with the UBC Okanagan Heat programs.
“Neil spoke highly of both,” said Michelle, joined by her son, Finlay, a fifth-year soccer star with Kamloops’ Thompson Rivers University WolfPack men’s team, for the presentation. “I know he is probably here now and is so very, very proud of both of them. I’m so honoured to be part of what you guys are doing in his honour.”
Each scholarship is worth $750. One is awarded to a graduating female player and one to a graduating male player, each of whom exemplifies excellence academically, within the community and on the field.
The scholarships are awarded in the name of long time TOFC coach Neil McPhie, who died of brain cancer at age 56 in 2016.
“It is extremely important to our club and to the Okanagan soccer community of players to keep the memory of such a positive role model and influence alive and strong,” said TOFC general manager Kai Tolpinrud. “Neil touched the lives of so many young players in the Okanagan through his involvement with TOFC, the North Okanagan Youth Soccer Association, and the Vancouver Whitecaps Okanagan Academy.
“It is a true honour for us to be able to work together with Michelle and Finlay to help out players with their post secondary pursuits in Neil’s name.”
For both players, the scholarships touched them deeply.
“Neil was my coach for two years and his passing was very hard on everyone here,” said Lampert, 18, who is studying management. “Winning this just reminds of who he was and what he meant to me.”
Said Vandekraats, 18, who only played under McPhie for a short time: “It means a lot coming from the McPhies. He was a really great guy and knew his stuff well.”
For Finlay McPhie, presenting scholarships in his dad’s memory to fellow university soccer athletes is an honour.
“It feels good to help them financially as they start their careers,” he said. “Especially going to Erica, who he coached for a few years. That was his group throughout his TOFC coaching experience. It’s nice to see the award going to someone like that.
“And I heard how good Carl is through my dad talking about him.”
Lampert plays midfield for the Heat women’s team, and Vandekraats, who is studying science, is a keeper with the men’s team.