Muskie senior squad heading back to the gridiron

Mitch Calvert

The Muskie football program is not waving the white flag just yet.
After an emergency meeting was called last Thursday to forfeit Friday’s game against River East in Winnipeg, the team has since rounded up some extra bodies and now is in a position to field a team for tomorrow’s road game versus the Maples Marauders.
“The players took it upon themselves to go and recruit guys knowing that our season would’ve folded if we had kept going on the way we’d been going,” Muskie offensive co-ordinator Andrew George noted.
“They doubled our team in two days, and with some quality guys,” George stressed.
“They aren’t in shape to play a full game both ways like the guys who have been here already, but we’ll be able to field a team and get these young guys a little bit of a taste of what this league’s about,” he added.
The Muskie senior team has had more struggles than successes this decade, but the resurgence of the ‘B’ team this season should help develop a stable of players for several years to come.
“We feel that the program is in good shape because we have the ‘B’ program started and this helps generate interest,” Fort High athletic director Shane Bliss said.
“It will be a few years until we see the marked improvement because of having players in the game for four-six years, but we will continue to build,” he vowed.
“It will not be an overnight success story, but it will happen.”
Doug Stein, who moved here from Winnipeg in 2000 and now is helping coach the ‘B’ team, said the need for kids to start playing the game at a younger age is obvious.
“I grew up in Winnipeg and played Bantam, Midget, and Juvenile football growing up and it makes a difference,” he remarked. “When I started coaching [in Winnipeg], we were getting kids from the Pop Warner league.
“When kids are being taught how to play at [age] six, by the time they hit 14, they are better prepared for it,” Stein added.
“You can’t just take kids in Grade 9 in their first year in the sport and expect them to compete against teams from the city, but I think this junior program is really going to help.”
Despite a positive outlook spurred by the ‘B’ team, former Muskie head coach Bob Swing said serious strides won’t be made on the field until they shore up ongoing off-field equipment and infrastructure issues.
“The missing piece is infrastructure. Football requires more infrastructure than any other sport because of the equipment,” he explained.
“All the hidden things that set things up to be successful—without an infrastructure that explains: ‘How do we deal with uniforms? How do we deal with equipment issues? How do we deal with communicating with parents?’—eats away at practice time.
“Without an organized plan to deal with this, the coaches are left to their own devices to make it work,” Swing argued. “As such, valuable time is lost not doing what needs to be done . . . coaching.
“I’ve had enough experience here to know that’s where the root of the problem lies,” Swing stressed. “It’s not any single individual or entity’s fault, it just is what it is.
“It needs to be fixed [and] you won’t find any more coaches until that gets fixed,” he warned.
Swing said a group of players from Grade 6-12 are interested in committing to the program, but again, without infrastructure improvements in place, they won’t reach their maximum potential on the field.
“All the high schools the Muskies are competing against have infrastructure,” he noted. “If you go to Kenora or Dryden, you can walk into the school and find someone in charge of the program, whether it’s Chris Penner or Geoff Zilkalns.
“They have to do a lot more work than those schools in Winnipeg who are really behind their programs, but the point is if you were to ask someone here, they won’t know,” Swing added.
“I’m just asking people to take a deep breath because it’s going to be fine if you get the infrastructure in place,” he stressed.