Samuel Robertson Technical coach Mark Bailey congratulates a player coming off the field. (THE NEWS/files)

Admin ends SRT Titans football program

Cite challenges recruiting both players and coaches at Maple Ridge school

Samuel Robertson Technical Secondary has elected to punt its football program.

The school announced the decision to discontinue football on Jan. 30, after coaches and players were informed about the move.

“This was an extremely difficult decision,” said vice-principal Ken Elphick in a press release. “SRT is not alone in its struggle to support extra-curricular programs like football.”

He said it was a challenge to susptain the program because of the smaller size of SRT, which doesn’t have teacher-coaches on staff, or a large student population to draw players from.

“In recent years, the dedication of community volunteers Rick Pelwecki, Mike and Al Jones, Ricky Hebert and Mark Bailey have kept the program running,” Elphick said, noting that the program has struggled with numbers the past couple of seasons.

“This year the program did not field teams at the Grade 8 or junior level.”

Bailey was the senior coach this year, in his third year at SRT. Mike Jones and his father Al were going to move up to that level, following the kids they had been coaching, and Bailey move down to the junior team.

The Jones’ had coached the Titans to a Grade 8 provincial championship in 2016. The program appeared to be on an upswing.

But the Jones’ opted not to coach this year, Bailey instead stayed with the senior team, and the Jones’ were not replaced.

There is supposed to be a school staff member act as a team support, and be present at practices and games. Bailey said having a teacher in that role would be a good liaison with students, organizing and recruiting players. In the case of SRT, a school custodian was the liaison.

He estimated a successful coach is going to practice four times per week for about 2.5 hours, and then give another five or six hours on game days to the job. It is a big time commitment, and many teachers have other priorities, he said.

Bailey said if football is to succeed, it needs the support of school personnel and the district. He noted that other B.C. schools use football as part of the school program, and students begin practice at 2 p.m., as part of their school curriculum.

“It’s very disappointing to the kids,” he said of the program’s end, and added that the school staff did not want to spend more energy on the football program.

School sports help give an institution its identity and culture, along with the arts, he said. They give kids a reason to look forward to going to school, and that is being lost.

The Meadow Ridge Knights are teaching community football, and have successful teams that could feed players into the high school teams, he added.

However, the school administration said recruitment was a problem. SRT draws students from a relatively small catchment area, which limits not only the number of students, but also the number of potential football players because student-athlete eligibility requirements prevent out-of-catchment students from suiting up. In addition to these challenges, BC High School Football passed a resolution two years ago preventing players from playing community and high school football during the same season.

The combined effect of these rules has made it very difficult in the past few years for the school to find enough players to form teams, said Elphick.

SRT has fielded a senior team three times in its history and two of those seasons ended in forfeitures due to lack of player availability because of injury and illness.

Travel posed another challenge for the program, said Elphick. Unlike many sports where teams can play other local high schools, the number of local teams is limited. In the 2018 season, SRT was the only local school to field a senior varsity team so “league games” were in Chilliwack, Abbotsford or Surrey and playoff games as far away as Prince George or Nanaimo. Most of these costs get downloaded to the players, making football the most expensive school sport to play.

“These obstacles are not going to change anytime soon. It was an extremely hard move but the school does so knowing that there are many opportunities for students to play football in the community,” he said. “SRT would like to congratulate the players who have represented the Titans over the years, and thank all of the coaches who have volunteered their time to work with these students.”

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