Changing culture of football team an uphill battle

When compared to the rest of the teams at Fort High, the Muskie gridiron gang often seems and feels like the girl who is left behind while the rest of the group heads out on prom night.
As the hockey, court sports, soccer, and curling squads (among others) have been racking up NorWOSSA and NWOSSAA titles, along with earning berths to the all-Ontarios, the football team has been left to fight it out near the bottom of the Winnipeg High School Football League standings.
A 9-7 triumph over the St. John’s Tigers last September was the first victory the black-and-gold have had in two season. And as the new season is just a couple of days away, turnout issues have been a big one for the team as it gets ready for this Friday’s home-opener against St. Norbert.
“This past Wednesday, we were up in the mid 30s, which is okay. But come Thursday, we were down again a little bit,” interim Muskie head coach Shane Beckett told me this past week.
“The kids that are a part of the team are doing a great job around the school trying to get people to come out, but it’s all about trying to change the culture inside the school,” he noted.
While trying to get people to join a program that isn’t successful, or perhaps isn’t well-supported, is nothing new in the world of sports, what Beckett told me next was quite surprising and disappointing.
“We are really trying to promote having pride in the program, and that you are not a loser if your play on this team,” Beckett had stressed.
Obviously without being in the high school, I can’t say if that issue of those possibly putting down players on the football team is a major issue. But if it is, that’s certainly a shame and a disappointment.
Trying to turn around a program that has been in a free-fall can be a lengthy process—not just in the world of high school football but in the collegiate and pro ranks, too.
A perfect example of this is the University of Toronto Varsity Blues, who have a prestigious past with two Vanier Cups crowns and 25 Yates Cup titles for being the top university football squad in Ontario.
But over the last decade, things have gone south for the school as they lost 49-straight games from 2001-08, and have yet to even post a winning record since 1995.
While the Varsity Blues finished the 2010 campaign with a 3-5 mark, their best since 1996, they still have a long way to go before they even begin to think about making a return to their glorious past.
Moving back to the Muskies, it’s hard to say what exactly it will take for the black-and-gold to start being a contender once again.
In a town such as Fort Frances, you aren’t going to have the population base the schools in Winnipeg have to draw from. And while football is increasing in popularity in Canada, it still has a long way to go before it can match the level of interest sports like hockey have in small towns across the country.
Although the prognoses may not be good for the Muskie gridiron squad as they prepare for a 3 p.m. kick-off here on Friday, here’s hoping this year’s team can defy the odds and have a chance to make some noise in the WHSFL.
It might be a small step, but it could mark the beginning a giant leap of changing the perception the program currently has inside the walls of Fort High.
• • •
Speaking of football, tomorrow night marks the start of the NFL regular season as the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers host the New Orleans Saints.
As I mentioned previously in this space, my favourite team (the Cincinnati Bengals) has no hope of actually winning the Super Bowl this year. But there is a rumour that quarterback Carson Palmer might withdraw his retirement threat and rejoin the team, which has revitalized my hope of a four-win season for the Bengals.
So when thinking about an actual legitimate pick to hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy in Indianapolis this coming February, I decided to move away from the usual suspects for the 2011 campaign in the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots and instead go with a team that’s been a perennial playoff under-achiever.
My pick to win the Super Bowl this year? The San Diego Chargers.

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