By Martin Cleary
Entering high school for the first time can be an eye-opening experience – new classmates, new subjects and new opportunities.
One of the many things Teagan Roy spotted as she cast her eyes around St. Mark High School last September was the sport of football.
Knowing her brother Tyler played the game, but not knowing a lot about it, she was so intrigued by the gridiron game she approached a coach on the St. Mark Lions boys’ junior team and asked that all important question: “Can I try out for the team?”
Roy, 15, was welcomed with open arms to a fall season of practices and a season-ending intrasquad game, since the COVID-19 pandemic prevented a traditional regular-season/playoff league format.
Then, she discovered the Lions had a girls’ varsity tackle football program in the spring. High school was off to a great start for Roy.
With two short sessions of tackle football to her credit, Roy attended two tryouts for Team Ontario, one of five provincial squads preparing for the first-ever Football Canada national U18 girls’ tackle football championship in Regina’s Mosaic Stadium, the CFL home for the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Roy’s athletic talent caught the eyes of the Ontario coaches during tryouts at Carleton University and Beckwith field near Carleton Place and she was named to the Ontario team for the July 3-9 Canadian championship.
“Our first (Ontario) practice was in Regina. We had no practices before that,” said Roy, who received the offensive team playbook a week before the nationals.
“Our first practice was the day before our first game. We stumbled with our plays in our first game (against Alberta).”
Although she had a week to review the Ontario playbook, she would have liked to have had live practices to see how the plays unfolded on the field.
“I’m a visual learner,” she added. “I had a hard time memorizing the plays. But one of the coaches helped me memorize the plays.”
Ontario played two mini-round-robin games on July 3 and July 6. The game format featured six-against-six on the field with each team fielding a centre, an offensive lineman, a quarterback and three receivers and/or running backs.
Each game was comprised of two, 12-minute quarters. Roy played in the four mini games – a 30-1 loss to Alberta and a 25-16 win over Manitoba on July 3, and a 44-7 loss to Saskatchewan and a 7-6 win over New Brunswick on July 6.
Roy was “super nervous” before the first game in the 33,350-seat Mosaic Stadium.
“I still wasn’t sure of the plays. But we got through it. We didn’t win, but it was super fun,” she continued.
She sat out the two games that determined the championship bronze medallist – a 13-12 win against Manitoba and a 15-12 defeat by New Brunswick – because of a hard hit in a previous game.
During the first day of the championship, Roy was the favourite target for Ontario quarterback Kamryn Szumlinski. In Ontario’s 25-16 win over Manitoba, Roy received her team’s MVP award for making four receptions, which covered 103 yards, and scoring two touchdowns.
“In the games, it was fun to do all the plays,” said Roy, who also performed kick-off duties. “We had meetings and practices. The coaches made it fun. There was karaoke with the coaches and the girls did it, too.”
When Roy returns to St. Mark for Grade 10, she’ll have an immediate decision on her agenda. She said the boys’ junior and girls’ varsity tackle football programs were running at the same time in the fall.
“I’m not sure which way to go. It’s a hard decision. I will leave it to when I get to that point,” she reasoned.
Although the Lions boys’ junior team didn’t play any games last fall, she cherished her two-a-week practices as a defensive halfback.
“It felt really good. Everyone helped me become a better player and the coaches helped me become better,” explained Roy, who made a number of tackles and a couple of interceptions in the intrasquad game.
“I really liked how all the guys supported me. They gave me tips. They treated me not like a girl, but like one of the guys. That made me feel part of the team.”
Once the snow was off St. Mark field in Manotick, the girls’ varsity team started training. The program attracted more than 45 players and Roy was on the depth chart as a safety and a team captain.
“It felt normal to do tackling,” Roy said, putting her boys’ junior football experience to good use. “If I tackled a guy, it felt like I was tackling (a practice) bag.
The Lions opened their spring season with a jamboree, playing mini games against St. Joseph Jaguars and St. Benedict’s from Sudbury. In the middle of May, St. Mark lost a full game at home to St. Joseph, but travelled by bus to Sudbury and defeated St. Benedict’s.
“Teagan loves football,” St. Mark varsity girls’ tackle football head coach Andrew Castellarin wrote in an email. “She’s very adaptable and plays almost every position on the field.”
Roy’s next football experience will come in the National Capital Amateur Football Association this summer and fall. She will decide shortly if she will join the boys’ bantam programs with either the North Gloucester Giants or the Gloucester South Raiders.
“I’m very much looking forward to that,” enthused Roy, who also plays for the NCAFA’s Cumberland Panthers U16 girls’ tackle team.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @martincleary.
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