Norbert Baharally isn’t necessarily calling his players to the principal’s office, but he wouldn’t mind seeing a few more of them at football practice.
The longtime coach of the Stettler Wildcats — and the William E. Hay Composite High School principal — is perplexed that too many Wildcats are opting out of much-needed practices in a rebuilding year for the perennial contender.
“We were low on numbers again today,” Baharally said Monday night after the first practice since Friday’s 7-3 loss to the visiting Wetaskiwin Sabres.
“That’s been the typical routine. I don’t know what’s happening. People don’t let us know where they’re at. I think we had 23 there today — if not, 22.”
The failure of most of those missing players to notify the coaching staff has only added to the frustration, he said.
“It’s a different team this year. They’re not very considerate to the fact that you’ve got eight coaches out there waiting to coach them, and they’re not telling us what they’re doing. They just don’t show up.
“Of course, we’re in a position where we can’t sit people (out of games) because they’re not going to practice, because then we wouldn’t even have 24 people.”
The Wildcats’ lack of practice showed in their home-opening loss to Wetaskiwin. Stettler’s record dropped to 1-2 in the Central Alberta High School Football League.
This Friday at 4:30 p.m., the Wildcats visit the West Central Rebels of Rocky Mountain House.
After a low turnout at training camp in August, the Wildcats had appeared to weather a shortage of bodies, as more players committed to play when the school year began. Almost 40 players are in the mix, but that’s not the case at daily practices Monday through Thursday.
“Oh yeah, we look good on paper,” Baharally said. “But it’s a matter of trying to get everybody (on board) at the same time.
“It’s hard to (practise plays) when everybody is different every day. The week before, we win in Camrose, and on the Monday after, hardly any bodies (show up for practice). We lose (last Friday), same thing, hardly any bodies (Monday).
“It’s sad, because I do think we have a good core of talented players, but it’s tough to put together a team with unity when nobody is there together at the same time.”
On the plus side, “we’ve got eight to 10 guys that are there all the time,” Baharally said.
“Nicholas (Baharally) and Stephen (Zuk) and Jordan McCallum, and even Matthew Gudgeon — who’s a second-year player now but in Grade 12 — and Darren Gendre, those are some of the seniors that are there every day. Those five guys, they’re showing up and they’re pounding it out. But they have a different love of the game than maybe some of these other guys.”
Many of the indifferent players are juggling part-time jobs and opting to go to work after school hours — instead of football practice. It’s become the Alberta reality, where students not only enter the workforce at a young age, but also own vehicles and need to pay bills.
“That’s true,” Baharally said. “It’s different this year, with the fact that a good majority of our seniors are working and some of them are in situations where they now have their own vehicles and they have to pay for that and insurance and everything else. So that’s part of the stressor.
“The other thing is we’ve got some Grade 12 or (Grade) 11 kids that are living independently, either with friends or something like that, so they need to work to try to get some money for that. It’s just a different culture right now.
“I’m not going to make them choose between work and being on the football team, because I know they would probably choose work and they would leave football.”
He hopes that with the help of the captains, the Wildcats can rally the troops to at least show more of a commitment for the rest of the season.
“I’m hoping something will happen with the captains,” Baharally said about organizing a prospective team meeting. “But I don’t think there’s anything anybody can do, because (those missing players) are choosing to just go to work.
“That’s the biggest difficulty, is that they’re working two, sometimes three times a week, so when we’re on the field practising four days a week, they’re there (just) once a week — and then everybody shows up for the game.”
Despite the practice-personnel conundrum, Baharally believes there’s still hope for the Wildcats.
“I’m trying to keep them positive,” Baharally said. “Tonight again, I told them, we still have a chance to win, to finish first in our division. But we need to beat Rocky on Friday, and then we need to hope that Rocky beats Wetaskiwin when they face each other. It would be a three-way tie for first in our division — it comes down to points for and against.
“And our defence has played well. It’s played pretty well the last couple of games. But our offence definitely struggled on Friday.
“So we’re going to try a few new things on offence. We’re going to try a few new bodies at some different positions. Good teams show their resilience, and the true test is going to come Friday.”
Frank van Ommeren’s opening field goal accounted for Stettler’s lone offence against Wetaskiwin, which responded with a Terry Branco touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Tailgate party set for Oct. 4 as Wildcats go under lights
The Wildcats’ next home game, Oct. 4 against Ponoka, is scheduled to be played under the lights.
“For the first time in Stettler Wildcats’ history, we will be playing under the lights in our hometown,” said manager Patty Steen. “We will also be hosting a tailgate party prior to the (7 p.m.) game, starting at 6 o’clock with hamburgers and hotdogs, cold sodas and water on ice (no alcohol, please) in the high school parking lot. The community is invited to join us and set up their own tailgate picnics. Bring your lawn chairs, cheering voices and fun fall spirit for this great event.”