On ice

Cameron Heights pulls plug on school’s se­nior foot­ball team due to low num­bers

Waterloo Region Record - - FRONT PAGE - Mark Bryson, Record staff mbryson@there­cord.com, Twit­ter: @BrysonRecord

KITCH­ENER — Johnny Forte saw it com­ing and took steps to pre­vent it from hap­pen­ing.

De­spite his best ef­forts, the Cameron Heights teacher/coach was forced to pull the plug on the school’s se­nior foot­ball team ear­lier this week. The num­bers gave him no other choice.

“I’ve been do­ing a lot of apol­o­giz­ing. Any time I see (a player that came out for the team), I’m apol­o­giz­ing,” Forte said Fri­day.

“I wish I could run a team for them but we didn’t have enough play­ers.”

For the first time since 2002, the Cameron Heights Golden Gaels won’t be in the pic­ture when the Water­loo County (WCSSAA) se­nior boys foot­ball league kicks off next week. Cameron Heights fielded a var­sity (all-age) team that par­tic­i­pated at the se­nior level last year but will only par­tic­i­pate at the ju­nior level this fall.

Other schools are also deal­ing with num­ber is­sues.

East­wood is out of foot­ball, both ju­nior and se­nior, for the se­cond straight year and Grand River will field a var­sity team in the se­nior ranks. On a more pos­i­tive note, Galt re­turns to the se­nior fold af­ter a two-year ab­sence with a var­sity team.

The 13-team se­nior league, which kicks off Wed­nes­day, will in­clude Blue­vale, Elmira, Galt, Glen­view Park, Grand River, Huron Heights, KCI, Jacob He­speler, Pre­ston, Sir John A. Mac­don­ald, South­wood, Water­loo, and Water­loo-Ox­ford.

The 11-team ju­nior league also starts Wed­nes­day with en­tries from Blue­vale, Cameron Heights, Elmira, Glen­view Park, Huron Heights, KCI, Jacob He­speler, Pre­ston, SJAM, WCI, and Water­loo-Ox­ford.

At Cameron Heights, Forte said ap­prox­i­mately 20 stu­dents signed up to play se­nior foot­ball last week, and 13 to 15 of those showed up to prac­tice. Forte and his play­ers tried to re­cruit ad­di­tional stu­dents to play but were un­suc­cess­ful. He folded the team af­ter five prac­tices.

The se­nior team’s demise took root two years ago, said Forte, when only 26 stu­dents com­peted for the ju­nior team and just “six or seven” of that group were in Grade 9. Fast for­ward to this year, and only three Grade 11 stu­dents were on hand last week for the start of se­nior prac­tice.

Stu­dents might be stay­ing away be­cause of the po­ten­tial for in­jury, said Forte, but he didn’t be­lieve that to be the case.

“There are in­juries, no doubt, but there are in­juries in other sports as well,” he said.

“I think it’s just the cy­cle of kids. We knew two years ago this was a pos­si­bil­ity … and with foot­ball, there’s usu­ally a drop (in num­bers) be­tween ju­nior and se­nior.”

Forte did con­sider the op­tion of field­ing a var­sity team for the se­cond straight cam­paign but de­cided start­ing from scratch at the ju­nior level was the way to go. He has since taken over as the ju­nior team’s head coach with hopes of re­turn­ing to the se­nior ranks in the next year or two.

Cameron Heights was the first WCSSAA champion in 1979 and has added five ti­tles since, the last one com­ing in 1996. For­mer NFL player Tyler Varga suited up for the Golden Gaels in 2010, as did cur­rent CFL kicker Ron­nie Pf­ef­fer.

The school’s foot­ball pro­gram was also shut down in 2000 be­cause of a labour spat be­tween teach­ers and the On­tario gov­ern­ment. The school fielded a ju­nior team the fol­low­ing year and the se­nior team re­turned in 2003.

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