The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have donated 525 new helmets to 35 football programs that are a part of the Winnipeg High School Football League (WHSFL). Each team received 15 Riddell helmets, valued at $425 a piece.
Despite being in another province, the Fort Frances Muskies were no exception to the donation.
“They’re a part of the league,” said Wade Miller, Blue Bombers president and CEO. “And more importantly, there’s Bomber fans in northwestern Ontario, and Bomber fans are part of our football family.”
So far this season, the Winnipeg Football Club has donated over $300,000 in equipment to youth programs.
“It’s important that the kids are playing with safe helmets,” said Miller. “We’re happy to be able to give out those helmets.”
“It really helps because every couple years we have to totally replace them,” said Marlis Bruyere, secretary treasurer of the Muskies Touchdown Club. “So it was really appreciated.”
Miller said the donation will help to keep costs down for kids who sign up for football, helping the game thrive.
“Football continues to grow, and the excitement around not just the Bombers but university, junior football, high school, all the way down to the U-8 kids,” he said. “Football’s growing in northwestern Ontario and Manitoba, and we have a responsibility to grow it as well—that’s what we continue to do, and will always do.”
As part of that growth, the Bombers invited 240 standout high school football players to take part in the Blue & Gold Showcase in May. Working with high school coaches, the club created two U16 and U18 all-star teams made up of over 50 athletes per team.
Seven of the Muskies were invited to attend two weeks of practice in Winnipeg prior to a final game at IG Field. Four of the Muskies attended the camp, and three of them got to play in the all-star game.
“They treated our players just like wonderful,” said Bruyere. “When they played in the Blue Bombers’ stadium for their big championship games that Sunday, they had the mascots bring out each team, and there was confetti and fireworks, and it was a wonderful experience.”
The Muskies are coming off a 3-4 record last year, barely missing the Division 3 playoffs. This year, the WHSFL has restructured their divisions, grouping similar-sized schools together. Most of the league teams are grouped in a AAAA division, with five or six teams per conference.
With the realignment, Fort Frances and seven other smaller schools are now in the new AAA division, and as such, will have a fairer chance at competing since their schools’ recruitment pools are roughly of equal size.
The Muskies were in Kenora last week for a jamboree with the Dryden Eagles and Beaver Brae Broncos to give players some game-like experience.
The WHSFL regular season officially begins this week as the Muskies host the Eagles at 3 p.m.
Fort High has four home games this year, hosting Dryden, the St. John’s Tigers, the Churchill Bulldogs, and the Daniel McIntyre Maroons. They’ll be in Winnipeg twice, visiting the Tec Voc Hornets and St. Norbert Celtics in consecutive weeks following their home opener. The Muskies will also travel to Kenora in October to take on the Broncos.