Penticton Minor Football Association has thrown a Hail Mary.
In an effort to keep the sport alive in a community that loves hockey but also has soccer competing for athletes, the organization has decided to try a six-a-side format. It was a move made in mid August because the Southern Interior Football Conference didn’t give them time to put a team together.
President Dave Johnson and secretary Lorraine Sopow decided to adopt the system used in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and other communities in Canada in the same boat. It’s also used in the United States. In an email, Sopow said the aim is to focus on skill development.
Sopow admitted it was a bit disappointing to go the route they are, but not at all surprising because of their problem getting players. She believes if football is to be established in Penticton, they need to start with basics.
“What better way to do this then with a smaller, more focused platform,” she said. “Although it is not full-sized teams, it will allow players to learn the basics of the game and focus on building skills. The bonus is that we can focus strictly on playing here in Penticton with no travel and added expense to the families.”
She also mentioned a perception that football is “too rough and dangerous” has influenced parents from allowing their children to play.
I found this shocking. For the people who have this perception, have you watched lacrosse? I’m amazed at the shots these players take, including cross-checks to the back that are legal.
“Football is less likely to result in injuries as compared to other sports that do not require protective equipment,” she said.
The good news is that six-a-side football has a track record in developing players.
Cory Schmaltz, head coach of Carrot River School in Saskatchewan, said he has had success with the format. His team won its first provincial title in 2000. Between that year and 2010, they played in the provincial championship five times, winning four.
“Just about every boy in Grade 9 to 12 play on the team, and I also started a grade 7/8 team about five years ago,” said Schmaltz. “I have only had four players play post-secondary football, but well over 12 players could have extended their playing career if they wanted to, they just decided not.”
Schmaltz added the program helped revitalize school spirit that remains strong. They also have several fans watch games and have a mascot.
Schmaltz joked about having to raise his voice with his players sometimes. He also gets them up earlier than they would prefer and makes them run. But they love playing.
“Football has a lot of life lessons in it and I talk to the players about that,” he said. “I also preach about having to play for one another and treat this like a family. The players love the game because they belong and contribute some way. They feel important. Things that I tell the boys stick with them for years, and it is so good hearing that from them years after they have played for me.”
Troy Wist, head coach of Central Butte School in Saskatchewan, went further stating that players will develop skills in different positions making them valuable to take on man-to-man situations and to play special teams because of their ability to tackle one-on-one in open space.
After two weeks, Penticton coach Ron Huston is seeing positive results in play, but the numbers can improve. In the first week, they played four-on-four, then week two increased to five-on-five.
“They don’t want to quit when it’s time to quit,” said Huston, who encourages kids to bring their friends.
The reason leading Penticton to try this is not positive. However, the decision to throw this Hail Mary could lead to a massive touchdown.
Emanuel Sequeira is the sports editor of the Penticton Western News