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Abbotsford high school football coaches aim to salvage season despite strike

With the school strike ongoing, B.C. high school football teams find themselves caught in the middle.
Rahul Joshi of the Rick Hansen Hurricanes football team keeps his eye on the ball during practice on Thursday.

With the labour dispute between the provincial government and the B.C. Teachers' Federation dragging on and the scheduled start of the school year fast approaching, high school football teams find themselves caught in the middle.

But despite the possibility that the strike could delay the start of classes, all four senior-level football teams in Abbotsford are forging ahead with practices.

And the W.J. Mouat Hawks and Robert Bateman Timberwolves still plan to play each other next Friday, Sept. 5, in their scheduled non-conference opener (7:30 p.m., Mouat Field) whether or not the strike is ongoing.

"B.C. School Sports has agreed to sanction the championships and for football to go ahead with their season, even if there's no school," Mouat head coach Denis Kelly told The News.

"It's not the greatest situation . . . We're trying to figure things out as we go, as far as the season goes."

Kelly was on the picket line with his fellow teachers on Wednesday, and has moved his team's practices to Clearbrook Park to "stay out of the way."

"(Other teachers) are kind of incredulous now as to why we do it," he said. "My comment is, the kids need it. They need an example other than the dysfunction that they see all around them. They see it in the government and the teachers, they see it at home a lot of times. They don't see any structure, and without sports . . . we're kind of the last bastion of hope, in my estimation.

"I don't feel conflicted. I'm just very convinced of the need for the program under the circumstances, really, more than ever."

Bateman head coach Dan Village said his team is "practicing as if we're playing.

"I've talked to Coach Kelly, and we're both prepared to play next Friday," he said. "The kids are looking forward to that, and we'll just take it day-by-day after that and just see what happens.

"We have enough community (coaching) support where they can take over if the union comes back and says we can't do any of this stuff at all. As far as I know, this is voluntary time."

Village, who is heading into his third year of teaching at Bateman, termed it a "tough" situation for teacher/coaches.

"I 100 per cent support my profession, I 100 per cent support the union," he said. "But if it wasn't for my coaches in high school, I wouldn't have gotten to where I am today. That's the only reason why I'm doing it – for the kids. A lot of colleges are looking at our senior players, and without those games, it's tough."

Rob Hallam, head coach of the Rick Hansen Hurricanes, echoed Village's sentiments.

"If we don't do this, then there probably wouldn't be a season, and that would be wrong for the kids," he said. "The other thing is, by not having a season, how would you rekindle this a year from now? I'm not sure how that goes. This is really the only choice that we can make. We'll do the best we can in a difficult situation."

The Abbotsford Senior Panthers' teacher/coaches were on the field with their players until local teachers returned to the picket lines on Wednesday. They've since turned the program over to coaches from the community.

"We want to give the kids the opportunity to play football, and also balance that we as coaches . . . do not cross the picket line," assistant coach Elmore Abraham said. "We went hunting and we made sure we had some community coaches who could come in and fill in the spot and still run the philosophy that we have."

"We're just trying to get them to continue to play."