Muskies change divisions in Winnipeg league Hopes for ‘B,’ ‘C’ teams looking slim

When you glance over the Winnipeg High School Football League’s 2005 schedule that was released last week, two dates stick out like a vegetarian at a meat-packing conference—Fort Frances vs. Beaver Brae on Sept. 23 and Dryden vs. Fort Frances on Sept. 30.
Confused? Well, let’s clarify.
The rivalries are back—Muskies against the Eagles, Muskies versus the Broncos. And the reason why these storied clashes will return to the gridiron this fall is because Fort High has dropped down from the ‘AA’ division of the WHSFL (now called the Kas Vidruk Division, who was a coach in the league) to the ‘A’ one (now named the Andy Currie Division), which is where Dryden and Kenora have played since NorWOSSA amalgamated with the Winnipeg league.
“I’m really looking forward to that [playing Dryden and Kenora],” said Muskie head coach Bob Swing.
“One of the things that was definitely underestimated was the removal of those rivalries and how it affected our program,” noted Swing. “And I can’t speak for theirs, but I do believe it affected their programs, as well.”
It was at WHSFL’s annual meeting at the Prince Charles Education Resource Centre on June 17 where it was decided the Muskies would join the now 11-team ‘A’ division.
It is considered to be the weaker of the two, but the Muskie coaching staff doesn’t see it that way.
“I know there are going to be some people that are going to say, ‘Oh, you’re in a lower league, so it’s easier to get the wins, but our commitment to the program will be as if we were playing in the upper level,” stressed defensive secondary coach Greg Allan.
“There are not going to be any pushovers,” he warned. “If you don’t prepare yourself and practice and play hard, then you’re going to be in for a big surprise.”
The Muskies went 4-4 in their inaugural season in the ‘AA’ division of the WHSFL, but winning just one game over the next three caused the roster to dwindle to the point where the team had to implement “iron man football,” meaning players had to play both offensive and defensive positions.
“I’m hoping that in this division we won’t have as many guys playing both ways,” said lineman coach Tony Geense.
Last year, the Muskies went 1-7—with that lone win being a spectacular one here against the Kelvin Clippers.
But that’s a team the Muskies won’t be seeing this upcoming season. Instead, they will face teams such as Miles Mac, Sturgeon Creek, Maples, Tec Voc, Oak Park, and the already mentioned Dryden and Kenora.
But does moving to the “lower division” mean guaranteed success?
“I feel that every week we have to play a football team and play to the best of our abilities,” reasoned Swing. “They are nameless, faceless opponents. We will prepare the same way, and we will be a tad more anal this year than we’ve been in the last couple of years as coaches.
“I would never in my life say that it’s less competition.”
But Swing does agree if the Muskies were to start gaining some ticks under the win column, that the “bandwagon effect” probably would take effect and see an influx of interest into the program.
In the meantime, there is a very real problem facing the Muskie football program. Both the ‘B’ and ‘C’ teams, which feature players in Grade 8 or younger, still need someone to run them.
And until that happens, there will not be a place for those kids to play organized football.
“The Touchdown Club and the high school have committed to doing a re-organization and a re-structuring to ensure the long-term financial viability of our high school program,” said Swing, who noted he doesn’t have the time to also take over the ‘B’ and ‘C’ squads.
“It takes a lot of work, and you have to do a lot of work now to be prepared for the fall and none of that work has been done,” added Swing. “But never say never.”
Swing also said much work still needs to be done in the WHSFL, noting some of those issues were discussed at the league’s annual meeting.
“There are some significant issues around scheduling, and conference alignment, and recruiting that the league is trying to deal with,” he remarked.
The new alignment, for instance, will see the ‘AA’ division with seven teams while the ‘A’ one has 11, which obviously is unbalanced and essentially has forced the WHSFL to schedule “cross-over” games between the two divisions.
“I feel that every year there are three or four teams that are very hard to play against and that we have to find a way to close that gap,” said Swing.
“And it’s hard to close that gap when your kids and coaches, and their parents and families and boosters and alumni, are working their tails off rooting for you and you’re not seeing the on-field product,” he added.
It’s the Muskies’ hope that making a move to the ‘A’ division will result in a better on-field product this fall.