There is one individual that is present at the Stettler football field for every game played there, regardless of the category and conditions; it could be high school football or peewee division, it may rain or shine, he is always there.
He is the Cougars’ head coach Mike Roach.
His love of football is evident even in the way he watches the games, as if he is recording the game plays into his memory.
His bantam football team has just completed a spectacular regular season in the Central Alberta Football League without losing a single game.
The Cougars won all of their games allowing only eight points scored against them in just one game, they won recognition and admiration for the great football they are playing and they are now looking forward to the league championship at the end of the playoffs.
Roach says he finds football the most encompassing of all team sports.
“I played most of the team sports. I find football satisfying in that whether you are a small person or a large person, we can find a place for you on the field.”
“You are never going to get 45 volleyball players because you can not carry more than 11 or 12.”
“Football is ultimate team sport,” says Roach.
His love of football even influenced his career choices.
“One of the reasons I applied for a job in Stettler was because Stettler had such a good football program,” says Roach in reference to how he got his first job as a teacher in the town.
“Then while walking to school one day, I saw Larry Wilson, who was the head coach of the Wildcats at the time and told him that I would be interested in coaching if he had room in his staff, and he said he did. So I started coaching in Stettler in 1981 with the high school program.”
“During that time, we got provincials twice.”
After going out of coaching football teams for a few years, Roach says he moved to Camrose because of his wife’s employment.
But in the meantime he continued to coach his own son, who won a provincial championship with his team in those years.
Roach and his family moved back to Stettler later and he resumed coaching in the high school program.
“Guy Neitz approached me in 2001 to start a bantam program and asked me if I would like to be the head coach, I thought for a while and then I said yes.”
“In 2002 we had our first bantam team, I think we had 51 boys, both peewee-aged kids and bantam kids.”
After a couple of years, which he describes as those of learning experience, he says. The Cougars won their first league championship in 2004 but lost in provincial semi-finals. The following year they won the league title again, but could not overcome Camrose to advance to provincial finals.
The Stettler bantam football team joined the Central Alberta Football League in 2006, Cougars made it to the semi finals in their first year and lost, last year they made it to the league championship game and lost, but this year they are looking forward to playing the championship game and winning it.
He gives a lot of credit to both his players and coaching staff for the so far very successful season.
“Our program has a very fine collection of assistant coaches,” says Roach.
“Three of my six assistants (Don Gardner, Justin Tanner, Ernie Shirreff), have been with the program for at least 5 seasons. This continuity and their expertise has helped immensely with our success.”
His coaching staff also includes Mike Long, Tim Loshny, and Devon Mappin.
As a coach, Roach says his greatest satisfaction is in seeing his players grow and become strong and fast runners or defenders in the field.
“Now that all these boys that I have coached are in high school, I have got coaches coming back to my staff.”
Plans for the future?
Roach says he would like to remain involved with football but maybe in a more administrative role than actively coaching teams.
“I’d like to retire, I have been doing this for a long time,” he says.