By Dan Plouffe
The Ashbury Colts will look to renew football rivalries that have laid dormant for decades when the senior boys’ team hosts St. Michael’s College Saturday at noon for the first game in their new CISAA independent schools league.
The “instability” of the national capital high school junior football league is what prompted Ashbury to leave the NCSSAA and make the move to what they hope will become their new permanent home.
“It’s a possibility (that we could rejoin NCSSAA) – I’ll never say never,” Colts football coach Dwayne Smith says. “But it’s really my hope and aspiration that we’ve found a home here, that this is a long-term solution, and that we can rebuild our friendships and camaraderie and rivalries with these independent schools.”
It’s been a very long time, dating back to the 1960s since Ashbury last played football in the Conference of Independent Schools of Ontario Athletic Association’s league, which contains many of the province’s highest-profile private schools such as St. Michael’s College, Upper Canada College, and St. Andrews College.
“It’s a little bit of a homecoming for us,” Smith adds, noting Ashbury College is a CISAA founding member. “When I talk with the old boys from back in the ’50s and the ’60s, that’s exactly what they’ll reminisce about.
“They’ll say, ‘Oh, I remember that time we knocked off St. Mike’s, or the time we had that overtime game against St. Andrews.’ We’re really hoping to reestablish that as quickly as possible.”
NCSSAA JUNIOR FOOTBALL WOES
The national capital’s junior football league has been in a bit of an ongoing state of turmoil in recent years. National capital athletic directors were forced to move the junior season to the spring three years ago to cope with a referee shortage.
Then it moved back to the fall last season, but many schools did not enter teams because they didn’t have enough coaches or equipment to field both senior and junior (Grade 9 and 10) programs.
The league was given a special exemption to operate with just six teams – below the usual eight required – for 2010, and this year it’s questionable whether they’ll even have that many with the Thursday, Sept. 15 entry deadline looming tomorrow.
In order to allow its junior players the opportunity to play rugby in the springtime at the Rockcliffe single-A classified school that has a small student population, the Colts originally responded to the season change by moving their junior team to the autumn Seaway Valley high school league.
The junior Colts then played in an Outaouais league on the Quebec side the past two seasons before making the decision to bring both teams into the CISAA loop this year.
“Nobody’s really sure whether or not (the national capital junior) league is going to survive this year,” explains Smith, whose senior team reached the national capital final last season before falling to St. Peter 37-14. “The reason why we experience success here at Ashbury for our football team is because we’re able to develop our players from Grade 9 to Grade 12, and if there’s no development opportunity for the Grade 9s and 10s, well, it just wouldn’t bode well.”
BETTER GAME ATMOSPHERE EXPECTED
Another big advantage that CISAA offers, Smith continues, is that all of its games are on Saturdays, which means his athletes don’t miss school time, and students, friends, and family can come out to watch instead of being stuck in class or at work for the majority of weekday afternoon games.
“We’re really excited and looking forward to the atmosphere that’s going to be built on the sidelines and the opportunity for these friends and family to celebrate the successes of these kids on the field,” notes the Colts’ coach of 12 years.
It was not an easy decision for Ashbury to leave the national capital league, Smith emphasizes, noting everyone will miss taking on their traditional foes from St. Peter, St. Matthew, St. Mark, and other local schools.
“The two key drawbacks were the loss of rivalry we’ve built over the last few decades, and now we’ll be bussing down and back on Saturdays so that’s increased expenses and time on the bus,” Smith identifies. “We felt at the same time that the benefits outweighed the costs, so ultimately we made the move.”
FOOTBALL COLTS’ OFSAA ELIGIBILITY IN LIMBO
One other drawback the Colts could potentially face is not being eligible to compete for an OFSAA provincial football bowl title. The CISAA champion moves on towards the Metro region OFSAA bowl championship game, but since the rest of Ashbury’s sports teams compete in the national capital association, OFSAA is currently mulling over whether they’ll allow the Colts to play in a different region’s football championship should they win the CISAA title.
It’s one more off-field hurdle to clear at the moment, but it doesn’t temper Smith’s enthusiasm to get the season going against a new set of old rivals.
“We’re looking forward to kick off at noon on Saturday,” Smith highlights. “The team looks good. I’m optimistic we’ll be competitive.”
Although he believes improvements could be made to the national capital league’s tier system, scheduling, and of course its junior loop, Smith maintains that the Colts’ departure from the local high school league should not be viewed as a shot against the association.
“This is really a good move for Ashbury, and I know that national capital will likely see some positives out of this as well,” Smith says. “We’re sad to leave that league for the traditions that it has and we’re very grateful for all the time and opportunities we had with them.”
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