John MacNeil/Independent editor
The school year doesn’t begin until Sept. 6, but it’s already time for high school football in Stettler.
The William E. Hay Wildcats practised twice last week and they’re back on the field each night this week in readiness for their Sept. 1 season-opener at Camrose.
“We’re looking pretty good,” said Wildcats head coach Norbert Baharally, the school’s principal.
“Right now, this is a tough time of year to try to get everybody out at the same time. Guys are finishing off summer jobs and some are still working. So, the first week or so, it’s kind of hit and miss as far as getting everybody out. As we get closer to the beginning of the school year, when they’re in school and you get them and they’re captured, it’s a little bit better feeling.”
The Wildcats went all the way to the provincial Tier 3 semifinals last season before losing to Peace River in the northern region final.
William E. Hay has about 15 returning players in its 38-man complement, which first came together during evaluations last spring.
“We had our spring camp and we ended up going to a jamboree out in Canmore,” Baharally said. “We had a good chance to evaluate our players and to look and see where we’d be putting them this year, and now we’re trying to get back together here and see how many guys are in shape and get ready to start working on our offence and defence and putting things together.”
The Wildcats are hardened during the season by playing in the nine-team Central Alberta High School Football League, where the heady competition includes not only their Tier 3 peers, but also Tier 1 and 2 teams from schools with bigger enrolments.
“We’re one of the smaller schools in our league, but we play everybody,” Baharally said.
“Lindsay Thurber out of Red Deer is a Tier 1 team and we play them.”
Aside from the league championship, the member teams go their separate ways for provincial playoffs, for which each school competes against teams within their tier.
“We qualified for provincials last year and the previous year, so we’re hoping to be back this year,” Baharally said.
The Wildcats had about 30 players at each of their opening two practices last Wednesday and Thursday at Waverley Field.
Practices are expected to grow even more intense this week, with nightly workouts culminating with a Saturday scrimmage against Olds.
“The Olds team is going to be coming down to Stettler, so we’ll practise together Thursday night, then Friday we’ll run two practices, and then we’re hoping to have an exhibition game against them Saturday morning,” Baharally said.
“We did the same thing last year. We went to Olds last year, and then we ended up playing an exhibition game in Calgary at McMahon Stadium, but this year McMahon Stadium was booked during that time, so we couldn’t do that.”
Typical of most small towns, some of Stettler’s best football players also play other sports, so keeping the team intact is at times a challenge for the coaches.
“Yeah, we’ve got players that are multi-sport players,” Baharally said. “Sometimes that hurts, because hockey starts so early now, sometimes you lose some of our guys during practice times. I can’t really say games, because at that time, the football season kind of takes precedent over the hockey season. So they tend to finish off commitments with the football team, as far as games go, but sometimes they’ll miss the odd practice because of a tryout or something like that with hockey. And then, during the springtime, we lose some (football players) because of baseball or soccer.”
After opening their season in Camrose next week, the Wildcats’ home-opener is a week later, Sept. 8, against H.J. Cody Lakers of Sylvan Lake. Game time is 4:30 p.m.