Mom blogs about elite Calgary football team’s U.S. tourney

Making the cut

It was another great football season for the Calgary Bantam Football Association. This is a full contact football league for youths aged 13-15 years old and runs throughout the fall. In 2012 there were 14 teams participating, 11 Calgary based and 3 from the surrounding areas, about 620 players.

Most players are sad when their seasons end, especially when you get knocked out of the playoffs. But for a “Select” few, football does carry on! The Calgary Select team was started in 1988 and as the name suggests, this team is made up of 30 of the best players from around the league. The Select coaches and officials start watching players from the entire Calgary Bantam Football league from about the second week in the season, coming up with a group of 70 or so players to choose from to go to a tournament in the U.S. after the season is over in Calgary. Two try-outs complete the process and the final 30 are chosen. It is an honour to get a try-out and the ones that make it start to realize that they are truly part of an elite group. Over the years, 95 per cent of Select players go on to play high school, many play in the NCAA or CIS and a few have become professional football players.

Preparing for departure

My son, Des, who played for the Cochrane Lions, was lucky enough to be part of that special group that got to fly to St. Louis, Missouri and from there participate in the “Pilgrim Bowl” in Belleville, Illinois. It is truly a unique experience. They get to spend about two weeks together as a team practicing and having meetings, before taking off for the trip. The group of coaches thatEvan Perrault & Des Catellier were the only two Cochrane Lion players to make the Selects.

Photo by Gilles Catellier are assembled for this team is very special as well and gives this group an experience similar to what the pros would have. This year, there were three former CFL players as part of the coaching staff and many coaches from several Bantam teams. This trip, for most of these players and some of the coaches, is really a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Bright and early on November 20, this group of players, coaches and a handful of parents set off on the journey. My husband and I were very happy that we were able to make the trip and share in this amazing experience. Day 1 was largely a travel day – arrive at the hotel, get settled, eat and short team meeting.

The team headed out for a practice on Day 2, followed by some sightseeing in St. Louis. It isn’t all about football! Still with a sports theme, the team toured Busch Stadium, home of the baseball Cardinals and then a trip to the famous St. Louis Arch. Again, in the evening, another team meeting and biographies of each player was read – another way for this team and parents to get to know each other better.

Adjusting to American-style play

Day 3 was finally time to play! Time to see what this team is all about! The first game was versus the Tri-County All Stars, which included players from the host town, Belleville. It was a beautiful autumn day, leaves on the ground, the sun was shining and none of that white stuff to be seen! It was very heart-warming to hear the anthems of both countries sang to get the game started. The Selects got off to a bit of a shaky start, between it being their first game as a team, the American rules and the turf, which was done up in pretty funky alternating colors of burgundy and grey, it took awhile for the team to find their comfort zone. The hardest adjustment was prior to the snapping of the ball, in our game, there can be movement in the offense, in the U.S., there can’t be and the whistles were blowing and penalty flags flying, sometimes for several plays in a row! Frustrating for players and spectators alike, not to mention the coaches and officials!! The team did finally get it together and were able to pull off a 16-8 victory. It wasn’t the prettiest of victories, but a win is a win and we were willing to take it. We were able to celebrate by going out for Thanksgiving dinner since they were celebrating it in the U.S. After arriving back at the hotel, the team and coaches met up to review game film and generally talk about the game. Again, this is something that most of these players have not done before and parents were invited to sit in on the sessions as well. This gave us all a very interesting insight into the game just played, a way to see it from a whole different angle.

Sightseeing, shopping, and seeing a state championship game

Day 4 was Black Friday and yes, we did go shopping! Not as crazy as we were expecting but there were some good deals to be had. The boys had to get back early to get ready for their evening game. This proved to be the coldest the weather got while we were down there and we all bundled up to take in the action of the Selects versus the Chicago Panthers. We were expecting this to be a very good match, but it wasn’t to be. There is just no other way to say it – this team just was not very good and we beat them without much effort 48-0. This is the hard part of these kinds of tournaments, trying to find good competition and the organizers thought this team would be better than they were. Still the Selects were down there for only three games and they played hard and tried to apply all the new skills and plays they’d been practising. The coach of the Chicago team gave his team a bit of a talking to after and our head coach overhead him. He told them that our team was a “real” football team and this is what they should strive to be someday if they want a chance at playing the game at a serious level. He also said they should shake our hands and congratulate us on being such a good team! Very high praise indeed, it was nice to know the coach recognized the calibre of talent on our team.

Day 5, the team went out to practice once more before we headed out to watch the high school state championships at the dome stadium in St. Louis, home of the Rams. We watched a Tier 2 game; it was very high scoring, so quite entertaining to watch. I think the boys all enjoyed getting a taste of high school football, especially it being as big as it is in the States.

Day 6 was our last game and due to a team dropping out of the tournament, we ended up playing the Tri-County All Stars again, this was a little bit of a disappointment, but at least this team had been competitive and they were going to have a few more players that had been missing on Thanksgiving Day. It was an absolutely beautiful day to sit in the stands and watch a game and we wanted to enjoy that as well since our days away were almost over. The Selects came to play, they had really come together as a team and this was their last game as that group, so they wanted to make it count! They beat the All Stars 26-8, though the home team did have some good plays, they had trouble converting that to points. The All Stars showed a little bit of their chippier side in this game and sadly, that resulted in a few injuries on our side and at least one player booted out from their team. All part of the game, I guess, but one that is not so attractive. Still, the Selects came out 3-0 and winners of the tournament! Team pictures were taken and both teams even posed together, it seemed that neither team really wanted to leave the field… football is really over now for the guys now!

An unforgettable experience

Monday was our travel day back to Calgary and the real world! It was quite an eye opening experience for all of us. The parents that went got to see a little bit of what goes on behind the scenes as well and the boys got a true “big league” experience. I know it won’t be one they will be forgetting anytime soon! I think they learned a lot and have made many lasting friendships! Football may have been what brought all these young men together, but I think they will take a lot more than just the games they played away from the whole experience. Well done Selects and congratulations to all the players for all they accomplished this year!

Sheryl Catellier is a Calgary football mom, and contributed this article to The Calgary Journal.