While the Stettler Wildcats going undefeated this fall may have been the talk of the town this season, none of the players on that roster magically appeared there.
Instead, the players have worked their way the Stettler Minor Football Association system, beginning with the atom Bobcats, moving to the pee wee Panthers, then moving to the Bantam Cougars before earning spots on the high school Wildcats.
According to the Cougars head coach, Ernie Shirreff, the fall 2022 season was a growth season for the younger team, winning two games and dropping two, which is up from the winless streak the year before.
“It is what it is,” said Shirreff.
“It’s a step-up from last year.”
According to Shirreff, only 13 players filled the roster this year, something he still attributes to fallout from the pandemic.
“COVID kind of beat us up.”
Shirreff says that the low numbers are affecting a number of teams, and they make training a challenge.
“Kids don’t get to see the other side of the ball until game day.”
Part of the issue during the pandemic was that youth were limited to one sport, and some chose something other than football. Shirreff is hoping to get more kids involved in the game he is passionate about.
“It’s absolutely the greatest team sport there is,” said Shirreff.
“It doesn’t matter your size or shape, there’s a place for everyone … For a kid it is a great learning experience. It’s the best sport in my life I’ve coached.”
While the Panthers are currently done for the winter, there are plans in the works for a spring training camp to run in May before the season starts for real in September.
With a couple of growth years behind them, growing numbers in the atom and peewee levels, and a number of kids already planning to return next season, Shirreff is optimistic for the sport in Stettler.
For more information about all the teams in the Stettler Minor Football Association system, check out stettlerminorfootball.com.