Saturday, October 27, 2018

The First Kickoff

Prelude

Some of you folks may be aware of my once keen and committed interest in coaching football in the past. I coached for thirty-two seasons with various teams at different levels. The age groups ranged from eleven years old to men in their late twenties and early thirties. The O.V.F.L. (Ontario Varsity Football League), N.F.C. (Northern Football Conference) and the C.J.F.L. (Canadian Junior Football League) entailed teams throughout Ontario. I also spent a good quantity of time at the high school environment and three years with H.M.F.A. (Hamilton Minor Football Association). Every league I was affiliated with was extremely competitive. However it's somewhat odd where it all began.

October 1971

By a twist of fate I happened to walk by Buchanan Park on a Saturday morning. It is a 7.8 acre sports park located at 11 Columbia Drive in Hamilton, Ontario on the west mountain. I was amazed to see an organized flag football game taking place. The more I watched the game, the further fascinated and intrigued I became...I had never witnessed this type of football before and stayed for the entirety of the game.

One of the coaches was a high school acquaintance of mine and I talked to him at the end of his game. I inquired about the league and asked him if he required an assistant coach for next year and he agreed to take me on...he would coach offence and I would instruct the defence...it was my beginning of many years on the gridiron.

The league was governed by Regina Mundi Roman Catholic Church and a chapter of the C.Y.O. (Catholic Youth Organization). There were two divisions, a junior (ages 11-13 years old) and senior (ages 14-16 years old) with four teams in each group. Most junior players represented four catholic elementary schools, (Regina Mundi, St. Vincent DePaul, St. Jeromes and St. Catherine of Sienna) and the senior squads were members from a few secondary schools. A lot of players attended Regina Mundi parish, other participants exercised their faith at alternative Roman Catholic churches.

Flag football, back in those days, was very similar to North American football. The only difference was instead of tackling the ball carrier, the play would be terminated when a defender would remove a one foot long rectangular piece of vinyl attached to a one inch cloth belt (worn around the player's waist) by means of a piece of Velcro. There were different coloured flags; red, blue, green and yellow.

The strategy of the game was identical to our traditional football...running, passing and full contact blocking on offence and different alignments, stunts and blitzes on defence.

The team names were synonymous with the C.F.L. (Canadian Football League) eastern conference teams: Alouettes, Argos, Rough Riders (now Red Blacks) and Tiger Cats. Each player was given a sweater (it was his to keep through a registration fee). The C.Y.O. crest was on the front and a number on the back. The colours would correspond with the respective C.F.L. team.

September 1972 Buchanan Park

Our team was the Alouettes (ages 11-13 years old) and we practiced at the same park we played at...150 feet away. The roster consisted of, give or take, twenty players who attended different schools. Anyone who joined automatically made the team...there were no cuts and we practiced approximately one and one half hours three nights a week. You couldn't compare our rehearsals to that of a tackle team...they weren't that intense and disciplined...it was church league flag football.

Since the game field had no goal posts, the kicking game with the exception of kickoffs and punts was abandoned. A team attempting a P.A.T. (Point After Touchdown) would be awarded two points from crossing the goal line from their opponents five yard line. We had a lot of talent my first year and won the championship. The flair continued in 1973 and 1974 winning back to back championships.

At the end of each season a fundraiser occurred with the help of the league executive and men's committee of Regina Mundi parish. They would organize a turkey roll on a Friday night in late November. It was fun and light-hearted incorporating gambling games like crown and anchor, over and under and poker. Tickets were sold for various prizes including many frozen turkeys. The grub was simple but good...salads, buns, cold cuts and of course adult beverages could be purchased. The profits from this "stag" would be placed into the C.Y.O. fund, specifically the flag football league. The Friday night shindig was for a good cause and everyone had a great time.

I recall one year at the fundraiser winning a forty-ouncer of rye whiskey. After the event myself and a friend (we both assisted at the function) finished up at his parents' house where he lived...needless to say both of us were "nine-tenths in the bag." We sat in the kitchen and cracked open my "forty pounder". Time ticked by and the second part of the "shindig" I remember, was standing at my parents' side door (I lived with them, R.I.P., God rest your souls) and entered their house falling down the stairs to the basement. As far as I can recollect my mother came to my rescue and put me to bed. However I did learn my lesson...I haven't drank rye whiskey since that night in 1974.

In 1975 the flag football league was going to be terminated. The president was resigning and no one volunteered for the position. I couldn't accept the league was going to fold...coaching these kids was truly rewarding and fulfilling and I looked at it as a very enjoyable extracurricular activity of mine. So I made a few phone calls and the league was back in business...yours truly was the new El Presidente. I had marvellous and spectacular support from the past president, priests and the parish men's committee...everyone was extremely co-operative and eager to help in any way that was needed.

I made a couple of changes when I took over as president. Sadly I abolished the Senior Division...it was hanging by a thread. Secondly, I thought it would be more logical if the players would play for their actual school instead of travelling a great distance to practice. For example, our team was the Alouettes and we practiced at Buchanan Park...St. Vincent DePaul school was across the street. The farthest any player would have to journey would take ten minutes, if that. Now the teams were the St. Vincent DePaul Alouettes, St. Jerome Tiger Cats, St. Catharine of Sienna Argos and Regina Mundi Rough Riders...it was much more convenient and favourable for the players attending practice. I was also hoping some rivalries might be created.

One may assume I was indulging in a conflict of interest as league administrator and head coach for the St. Vincent DePaul Alouettes, however no one complained. Some of my managing duties of the league were organizing a schedule, recruiting coaches, referees and groundskeepers, applying for a lottery grant to help subsidize for belts, flags, sweaters and footballs. I recall giving a monetary donation to he St. John's Ambulance Foundation so they would be present at our games if first aid was required...they gladly accepted the money but their attendance was invisible. Everyone worked in tandem and the league was a smooth sailing ship.

I knew St. Vincent DePaul school had a great deal of talent but nevertheless so did St. Catharine of Sienna Argos who were coached by a personal friend of mine at the time. The 1975 championship consisted of my friend and I facing off...the Argos were victorious and my three year bubble had burst. I had a new coach orchestrating the offence that year but I wasn't happy with him and asked him to resign. It just wasn't because we had lost the championship...there were other issues during the regular season.

Before the 1976 season had started I was able to bring back my original coach of 1972-1974 inclusive. I was entering my fifth year of flag football and an urge and desire to advance to the H.M.F.A. (Hamilton Minor Football Association) for the next year. The 1976 season had an indication of having a lot of potential and a promising year for the Alouettes. It was also looking like a championship rematch of last year between us and the Argos. As I previously stated we (as coaches) weren't that strict or regimental with minor authority and rule among the players. I recall one player in particular who quite often attracted my attention. It wasn't so much he was a nuisance but how his behaviour would occasionally switch.

I regarded the entire scenario as exceptionally comical...it was continuous throughout the season. The player's older brother was a good high school buddy of mine and still a great friend today. Every so often he would visit our practice and observe how his little brother was "performing." Now this is where it becomes humorous.

Whenever the youngster observed his older brother approaching, the boy's demeanour would miraculously change into an extremely well behaved 13 year old lad...it was absolutely remarkable, like a halo had just popped out of nowhere and was sparkling two inches above his head...complete magic. The older brother would only stay for ten or fifteen minutes and then pulled a Hank Snow, "Moving On." Needless to say once he left the boy's halo instantly disappeared and he returned to his regular manner...in this case it was safe to say older brothers RULE.

The West Mountain Alouettes of the H.M.F.A. practiced on the east side of Buchanan Park since I had started with flag football in 1972. I was always intrigued with that league and knew it was time to move onward with something more competitive and challenging. I made the decision 1976 would be my last year with the C.Y.O. and pursue a head coach position for any pee wee (12, 13 year olds) team with the H.M.F.A.

Anyway, the 1976 season finished just the way I had predicted...running neck and neck with our rival St. Catherine of Sienna throughout the season and a repeat of last year's championship game. This year we were victorious at the grand finale. It was an exceedingly delightful triumph and very satisfying way to depart my five year stint. The league also honoured me with their recognition and presented me with a lovely plaque at the banquet.

Epilogue

I enjoyed my duration in flag football. The last two years were hectic but at the end it was very self rewarding and I hope numerous people had some fun. I encountered scores of really good kids and adults and it helped me learn and expand my knowledge of different football tactics and ideas...specifically on defence. My two years as President was a worthwhile experience and a positive addition to my resume. However, to this day I still wonder what Pope Paul VI (the Pope at that time) reactions and comments would be if he discovered I was Head Coach and President for a C.Y.O. football league...I'm not Roman Catholic, I'm Protestant.

The End

The Harvenut Puritan Project
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