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Pigskin problems: Troubles in the River City
High-school football in Kamloops is more banged up than Buck Pierce after Week 19.
“Honestly, the situation is not good,” said Cory Bymoen, head coach of the Valleyview Vikings, the town’s healthiest secondary-school program.
“Look what we’ve done here. I moved back here in 2001 and I was shocked at the number of high-school football teams in this city.
“I used to think, ‘How does this work? Where are the coaches coming from? And the players?’ Sure enough, fast-forward . . .
“These people that set these programs up, they had to have seen this as a possibility.
“We had two teams in this town at one time that were very good. Then, what did we have at one point, five? And everyone’s saying, ‘What happened to football in Kamloops?’
“Well, take a look. You go from two to five in a city — there it is right there.”
Dean MacDonald, head coach of the South Kamloops Titans, was forced to fold his program this year due to a lack of players, marking the first time since the late 1990s the school will not field a senior team, although it came close to nixing the season in 2011 for the same reason.
Bymoen’s Vikings and the Westsyde Blue Wave, coached by Cleve Maartman, will compete this season in the B.C. High School Football Okanagan AA Varsity ranks, along with Salmon Arm, Mount Baker of Cranbrook, Vernon and Clarence Fulton of Vernon.
Okanagan Mission of Kelowna could not get enough bodies out to practice and withdrew from the league.
“There’s another example, Okanagan Mission,” Bymoen said.
“Four teams in Kelowna . . . something had to give. Who gave? The small school. They’re done. It’s watered down in Kelowna, too. It had to go.”
School reconfigurations in the Kamloops-Thompson school district ultimately led to the disbanding of senior football teams at Brocklehurst and NorKam secondaries.
In September 2010, Brocklehurst became a middle school and its seniors went to NorKam, which was morphed into a Grade 10 to 12 school.
The once-proud Saints of NorKam, without a junior-varsity feeder program, were not able to field a senior squad.
MacDonald noted that, despite all the changes in the school district since the turn of the millennium, he was able to field teams during the transition period.
“I coached at John Peterson when we were a small school and we were able to get 25 kids out and do well, and I coached straight through the merger and we had in the 30s sometimes,” MacDonald said.
“Over the last two or three years, for whatever reason, the numbers have fallen off. Other things are interesting kids more than football right now. It’s frustrating and discouraging.”
Each of the city’s three high-school programs seem to have a junior-varsity crop in waiting.
South Kam’s juniors won the Okanagan title last season, but a group of players opted not to make the jump to senior ball.
“That’s a big part of the frustrating part because we thought we had some players on our hand,” MacDonald said.
“We were kind of optimistic about the senior team, but a lot of those kids didn’t come out.”
KTW spoke with former Titans’ defensive back David Scopick before the 2011 campaign, when South Kam was struggling to find players.
“I just think that kids are changing, mostly,” Scopick said.
“They’re playing soccer or they’re just getting lazy and don’t want to go out.”
Bymoen doesn’t buy that.
“It’s not the kids. They will come out and they will commit. The question is: Do you have enough of them and do you have enough coaches? Because there’s programs everywhere in this town now,” he said.
“Yes, there are some good things about this model, but one of the fallouts is the athletic programs in the school district are not what they used to be.
“South Kam has a basketball program, sure, but they’ve got kids that are seven foot tall. Those don’t grow on trees. That’s an anomaly. And, really, if you look at it, South Kam’s girls’ basketball team, that’s an all-city team. Everybody knows it.”
There are not enough students at each school to feed the athletics programs and football, which demands a great deal of dedication from players and coaches alike, is suffering, according to Bymoen.
“We’re spreading our athletes very thin,” Bymoen said.
“Nobody is willing to make any tough decisions and they’re allowing sports to go that are really only catering to five or six kids of a certain body type in the fall.
“I don’t want to jump all over volleyball, but that’s the example that I see here at Valleyview. We’ve had a revolving door of volleyball coaches.
“You get four kids in the building that really want a team and they run around and get three friends to play. Next thing you know, you’ve got seven or eight guys. That’s enough for a team.
‘They find a community coach and there they go. It’s just a Band-Aid approach.
“There’s probably two or three guys on that team that you need from a football perspective.”
A pool of well-respected gridiron gurus — among them Jeff Willett and Darren Holmes, formerly of South Kam, Darryl Chow and Bob Bridges, formerly of Westsyde, and Glenn Armstrong, formerly of Valleyview and NorKam — are no longer coaching in Kamloops at the senior high-school level.
“It is becoming more and more demanding to coach the game (largely due to “paperwork”/administrative demands placed upon coaches/programs from both the school district and B.C. High School Football),” Bymoen wrote in an email to KTW two years ago.
He added last week: “You know what’s going to happen here, when you see a guy like Dean who’s pulling his hair out at South Kam . . . I know I could use help here if someone like Dean wanted to come over here. I know it would make our program a lot better. You might see a concentration. Maybe a guy like Dean or myself, maybe we try to team up, get these coaches in one place and get these kids coached up. More quality.”
The picture Bymoen painted was purely hypothetical but, if something like that were to happen, one of their two schools would likely end up with a strong football program, while the other would be left on life support.
There are no concrete answers, never mind plans, to fix what is wrong with high-school football in Kamloops.
For now, the dark cloud grows.
“You could see this coming for years,” Bymoen said.
“It’s a battle.”
Minor football in Kamloops has enjoyed a rebirth since 2008, when Kamloops Community Football formed.
Maartman is all for minor football in the River City, knowing a healthy system will only help feed the high-school ranks, but he is not thrilled with KCF’s involvement with the Southern Interior Football Conference (SIFC).
“To me, it’s a simple solution with keeping everything in Kamloops,” Maartman said.
“You have four teams. You have rivalries.
“Years ago, we had the Westsyde Wildcats, the Dallas Cowboys, the Brock Broncs and the Sa-Hali Sabres, where you had about 20 players playing American rules and we played within ourselves and drew from grades 6, 7 and 8.
“Now what we have is one junior-bantam team feeding three schools and that’s just not enough. We start them young, a little too young, and they start to get discouraged that they have to travel to Kelowna at a really young age and get their butts handed to them.”
As it stands, KCF has three teams — the atom (ages 7, 8 and 9), peewee (10, 11) and junior-bantam (12, 13) Broncos — entered in the SIFC, which features squads from Vernon, Salmon Arm, Kelowna and the Tournament Capital.
Bymoen is just fine with Kamloops minor teams travelling out of town for games — “There’s rep hockey kids in Grade 4 that go out of town every weekend. To say it’s too much on kids to do for five football games, I don’t buy that.” — but he agrees with Maartman’s suggestion that players are picking up the pigskin prematurely.
“I don’t think it’s necessary to start kids at a really young age,” he said. “Sometimes parents need to put the brakes on the kids and I’ve been guilty of it with my own kid. We get them into too many things and we spread them too thin and they end up quitting.”
Eliminating some of the younger age groups from minor football might also lead to a stronger junior-bantam group, Bymoen said.
“I wonder, have they spread their resources too thin?” he said.
“Maybe they’re better off to have one team.
“That’s up to minor football, but maybe they should have one Grade 7 and 8 team.”
“Don’t try to fracture this and get coaches in there that, really, to be honest, a lot of them are just parents.
“Good on them but, in the long term, it’s probably not the best solution.”
“You’re better off to concentrate and don’t spread the resources thin.”
MacDonald, who has a son who plays for the peewee Broncos, cited a 33-18 victory for the atom Broncos over the Kelowna Lions on Sept. 8, suggesting the gap between the cities’ teams might be closing.
“They’re [the KCF] doing their best to try to promote football at the younger age levels and we’ve seen some of those kids come through and help us out,” MacDonald said.
Each of Kamloops’ high-school senior coaches reported seeing dividends from the current KCF system.
KCF product Lliam Wishart, for example, now the Vikings’ standout quarterback, is a Kamloops minor-football product.
It just seems there is some disagreement about the league’s format and whether there could be more fruit harvested with an altered system.
Blue Wave in action
The Westsyde Blue Wave open their regular-season schedule on home turf against Vernon on Friday, Sept. 20.
Game time is 6 p.m. at Hillside Stadium.
Westsyde’s junior-varsity squad is slated to host Salmon Arm on Thursday, Sept. 19.
That game will get underway at 4 p.m. at Westsyde.
On Oct. 4, the Blue Wave are hosting a homecoming game, a regular-season tilt against Mt. Baker of Cranbrook scheduled to kick off at 7 p.m.
Maartman said it will be the first Blue Wave game played under the lights and alumni are encouraged to attend.
There will be a pep rally and a band will play.
Go online to bchighschoolfootball.com for the full schedule, which is subject to change.