The new president of Red Deer Minor Football has some lofty goals but first on his to-do list is very much a practical task in the big scheme of things.
“The first order of business is probably take care of the aging helmets and then from that point forward just making sure we can get the athletes out on the field playing football,” said Greg Thompson.
He took over the post in June but has been with the minor football program for about eight years now, including five as a coach where he received some provincial recognition as coach of the year at the peewee level.
Over that time he’s seen the program grow from just the two peewee teams and the addition of the atom level teams, and Thompson says it’s become a very good feeder system for the bantam and high school teams in the City.
“I think what you’re finally seeing now at the high school level are the kids that have been playing some atom and peewee and then move into bantam and then high school, the Grade 10 kids, you are starting to see some of those kids start whereas before you wouldn’t have seen that ,” said Thompson.
This means these kids who maybe would have been seeing more playing time in Grades 11 and 12 are instead getting three years of high school football as a front line player, he added.
Getting back to the helmet replacement issue, Thompson says due to all the talk of concussions in sports he felt it was the right thing to do in replacing the helmets for the atom level players so parents would feel more comfortable in registering their children to play football.
“We didn’t need to replace them but we felt it was better to have the best helmet we could get for these players,” he said. “At the atom level they’re more of a bobble head system there. They kind of just bump into each other and the speed of the game isn’t quite like it is once they hit peewee but we want the best product we can put on the kids.”
The program normally has a spring camp to introduce new players to the game and refine the skills of those who have a year under their belt but that has been put on the back shelf the past couple of years due to the many commitments the volunteer coaches have these days, said Thompson.
“It’s part of the mandate next year to bring that forth and to get back to actually running a full two-week spring camp with atom and peewee football.”
He doesn’t feel the lack of a camp will dramatically impact the number of young boys and girls coming out to play football when the season starts in late summer, he said.
He says the numbers are remaining somewhat steady with more than 150 young players in the atom and peewee programs, with the strength being reflected in the two provincial championships at the peewee level.
It all adds up to Red Deer becoming more of a player at the higher levels of the game when they take on perennial powerhouse teams from Edmonton and Calgary, he said.
“The playing field is becoming more level which is nice to see and it all starts at the bottom levels,” he said. “We’re trying to get these kids to love the game and it should be an opportunity for them to continue playing the game and continue to love it when they graduate, move onto post secondary and possibly pro.”