For many junior-high students it was their first chance to strap on the cleats and shoulder pads, not to mention buckle up their chinstrap, against real opponents Saturday afternoon. The Bonnyville Bandits hosted a rare bantam level football jamboree which saw teams from Cold Lake, St. Paul, Lloydminster, and Fort McMurray come to Walsh Field.
The jamboree, similar to the high-school one last weekend at Walsh Field, was also the first opportunity of its kind for coaches to take stock of their future roster before the fall.
“What we saw on the field today for 15 kids who’ve never played football before, no experience and the nervousness of playing, they played fantastic,” said Bonnyville Bandits coach Mickey Fagnan.
“Anybody watching the games can see they came to the plate today. Even the younger kids, nervous as they are, showed well. We showed well in the four games against the competition in our association,” said Fagnan.
Fagnan said it was the first time in a long time there’s a jamboree of this nature for these bantam players.
“It [jamborees] dwindled to primarily nothing. But we’re trying to rejuvenate from what I’ve heard from the other coaches, and they’re thinking about next year how they could put on something like this.”
The St. Paul Bengals won Bantam Tier III Provincials last year after narrowing defeating the Bandits 13-7 in overtime of the league championship. Bengals coach Todd Tanasichuk says the team right now is “pretty green.”
“A big learning day for us, it was first day at doing real football, and it showed. But we did some good things. We tackled well when we had opportunities..but we’ll be better by October.”
There were more firsts at the jamboree, like the opportunity for coaches to crack the disciplinary whip – which Tanasichuk did in his team’s third game. After a slow start it was “pushup time” for the Bengals.
“We played two games and then we had a lunch. And this is common on jamboree day, so they have lunch and they come out and they’re completely flat. So they did some pushups and started to play some better football, which is typically how it goes.”
The Cold Lake Ravens won a couple of their matchups and coach Mike Lemieux likes the progression his team is making after many practices, and a fresh crop of players coming from the peewee level.
“It was a great experience, a controlled environment, and a lot of our players got their first time playing football. We’d like thank Bonnyville for setting it up for us because it’s always great for the development of kids. We got a strong football team and we scored some nice touchdowns, our defence played well.”
The words of wisdom on Spring Jamboree day from Coach Fagnan for his young team? Toughness.
“Life is full of ups and down, so toughness means you have to stay there. You can’t quit, you have to stay at it,” said Fagnan.
“I teach them that wherever they are – just be all there. And they respond in a way. I really like what I saw on the sidelines, the encouragement. Play to the max, that’s what we teach, because otherwise you’re going to get injured. I think the experience in the end is a good one.”
After the games ended, the field was set up for the “Canadian Ninja Warrior” race, an obstacle course that forced the athletes to carry pails of rocks, swing on the monkey bars, and flip tires to get the best time for their team. Bonnyville finished first with the shortest overall time, and Lloydminster placed only a few seconds behind them.
For most of these teams, this event ends their spring season.