By Dan Plouffe, originally published April 2010 in Orleans Star
Sir Wilfrid Laurier Secondary School will be back on the field for this spring’s junior football season, electing to take the opposite approach as it did for last year’s first-ever springtime league.
One of the big reasons for the change was that the Lancers varsity team (Grade 9-12) struggled to find enough players for its senior season this past fall – a situation coach Eric Kukkonen attributes in large part to not having a jr. program (Grade 9-10) last year.
“It was a huge problem,” Kukkonen says, noting there weren’t many Grade 11s playing this past fall. “A student in Grade 10 who’s never played football will give it a try in Grade 10 because they’re the older and bigger kid.
“If they don’t have experience going into Grade 11, it’s unlikely for them to try it for the first time in Grade 11 because they’re the smaller kid again.”
Last year, Sir Wil didn’t enter a jr. football team because they wanted to preserve their strong rugby program, which was also run by Kukkonen and drew heavily on fall football players to make up the team. This spring, the Lancers jr. boys’ rugby program had to be shelved to make way for football.
“We knew that football is a bigger draw than rugby is, and kids are going to choose football over rugby,” Kukkonen explains, noting about a dozen kids came out to their rugby meeting compared to almost 50 attending football practice, and a few students transferred to St. Peter to play football. “It’s a shame because I think we would have had a very good jr. boys’ rugby team as well if they were opposite seasons.”
The two-year pilot project that changed jr. football from its traditional fall home – a move necessitated by a shortage of onfield officials – will come to an end after this spring.
While jr. football is currently slated to return to the fall next season, it’s possible – and likely – that a motion to keep it in the spring will be put forth for a vote at the June meeting between the athletic directors of all the National Capital schools.
Kukkonen is hoping that won’t happen.
“It doesn’t kill one of our programs,” he adds. “The decision to put it in the spring didn’t hurt the other schools as much as the schools that ran both football and rugby. And it doesn’t hurt St. Pete’s as much because they’re such a big school that they can field (jr. boys’ rugby and jr. football) teams.
“It’s really sad to see kids have to choose one sport over the other.”
St. Peter jr. football coach Bruce Blomeley is on board with Sir Wil in seeking a return to the fall, and plans to potentially keep more Grade 9s than usual on his roster in anticipation of back-to-back spring and fall jr. seasons in 2010.
The third Orléans football school, St. Matthew, finds itself on the opposing side of the ball, however. Al Rozman, who coaches both the jr. and sr. Tigers football teams, says a switch back to the fall just may lead to the end of their jr. program.
“If it reverts back to the fall, I don’t know what we’re going to do as far as jr. football,” Rozman says, noting he’s the only St. Matt’s staff member who coaches football at the moment. “Having the two seasons has it made it possible for everything to run smoothly here.”
St. Matthew may wind up having only a varsity team – the model employed at Sir Wil this season, as well as at Colonel By – in the future, but it’s the option at the bottom of the list for Rozman, who believes a jr. team is essential to competing with the top schools.
St. Matthew isn’t the only school in Ottawa that has trouble finding coaches for jr. and sr. teams in the same season, notes Rozman, who’s pleased to see the jr. football league will grow to 11 teams this spring.
“It’s nice to be back to kind of normal levels,” he adds. “Being in the spring has opened up jr. football to a lot of schools.”
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