After two months of delays due to COVID-19 and also forest fire smoke, young Surrey-area football players are keen to get back on the gridiron for the season start this weekend (Oct. 3-4).
Ten associations with Vancouver Mainland Football League play the tackle style of the game during the fall months, typically starting in August.
This year, the pandemic caused some false starts for minor football.
“The kids are just excited to be out playing again, on the field,” said Jean McPherson, president of North Surrey Minor Football.
“Back in July it was still pretty questionable whether we’d get to this point, but with us moving to games now, we’re hoping to make it through even a shortened season without something else coming our way.”
This fall, the league’s teams will play in cohorts, in groups of four teams, across each division.
“We might have playoffs for the older kids, but for the younger ones we’re just focusing on getting them out there and having fun,” McPherson said.
The football league involves community clubs in North Surrey, Cloverdale, White Rock, North Delta, Langley, Coquitlam, Richmond, New Westminster (Royal City), South Delta, Vancouver and Vancouver Westside.
With Phase 3 of B.C.’s Return to Sport plan triggered in late August, the VMFL season was supposed to start on Sept. 27, but that date got pushed back a week due to poor air quality caused by wild fires in the United States.
“With all the smoke, pretty much everybody had to cancel practices for about a week, so that’s been another thing to add to everything else,” McPherson explained.
“When Phase 2 came out, after that teams started moving ahead with gear and moving into contact practices. That’s later than usual. We usually have our first pre-season tournament by that first weekend of August in Chilliwack, and then our Bronze Boot tournament is always held later that month, but not this year. It’s all been very different.”
Because of COVID-19, the players, coaches, officials and spectators must adapt to new rules and regulations.
“Every player and coach gets checked in when they arrive, with standard questions regarding COVID and possible exposures, and their temperature is checked, hands sanitized, and then only the participants – players and coaches – are allowed on the field during a practice or game,” McPherson said. “We have extra sanitization of equipment before, during and after. There are also separate entry and exit areas at the parks, so we’re not crossing paths too often.”
North Surrey’s home games are played at Bear Creek Park.
“I just got word from the City of Surrey that for our bleachers, two of them, each one is considered its own event, so we can have 50 (spectators) on each of those, so that’s good news for us, but some parks won’t be so lucky,” McPherson added.
With high school football not expected to happen in B.C. this year, club football is the only game for kids to play right now.
North Surrey will field nine football teams this fall.
“I would say our numbers are a little bit down this year, but some of that has to do with having to limit our roster sizes, because of the 50-person gathering limit,” McPherson said. “We can only have that many people on the field at one time, and we have to consider refs, the crews that run the sticks, the game commissioner, so that leaves us with smaller numbers of players. We’re only running nine-man football, in all divisions and clubs, where in previous years clubs had the option of doing nine- or 12-man football, and North Surrey is historically a 12-man club.”
Whatever the format, it’s football season.
“We’re happy to get going,” McPherson added. “It’s going to look a lot different this season, with extra time between games to sanitize the equipment and field and benches, goalpost pads, all that stuff. It’ll be some extra work but it all kind of balances out though, because we’ve chosen not to run the concession, where it would be a little hard to keep distance, so we don’t have to take care of all the food stuff there. That’s hard for our fundraising, but we’ll use those volunteers elsewhere.”
Online, North Surrey Minor Football is at surreyfootball.com.