It took some hard work and more fundraising than anticipated, but Surrey’s newest school football program has hit the gridiron running.
For head coach Gord Randall, it’s a dream come true at Sullivan Heights Secondary, where the Stars are hoping to shine after more than eight months of planning.
Nearly five-dozen students are helmeted and padded up for an inaugural season that will involve both Varsity and Junior Varsity squads playing triple-A football under the umbrella of B.C. Secondary Schools Football Association.
“It’s been a lot of work over the past seven or eight months, and I’m the one who’s been driving the bus for a lot of the stuff, with a couple of other teachers here helping me out,” said Randall, a social studies teacher at the school.
“It’s funny, I’ve been coaching at the high school level in this province for a few years, and I thought I had a pretty good idea of what’s needed to get something like this going — I did, but a lot more needs to be done than what I thought.”
We're officially here. Check out our look for this fall: pic.twitter.com/eSaliceZby
— Sullivan Heights Football (@SHStarsFootball) August 25, 2018
The newbie Stars are slotted in the league’s Pacific Division, alongside Earl Marriott and seven other teams, while the JV team will battle in a seven-team division.
Due to costs involved, it’s not common for a football program to get up and running in a B.C. high school. Randall originally estimated startup costs of around $40,000, but the number went north of that with the creation of two teams at Sullivan Heights.
“Finances are one of the biggest challenges, and we’ve done pretty good with that,” Randall said. “There’s still a chunk of that that needs to be in place, but fortunately our equipment supplier has been able to accommodate us with some generous terms and things like that, but we’re definitely still actively fundraising.”
Also, some gear was supplied by a crosstown rival at Lord Tweedsmuir.
“We were lucky to get most of our helmets and about half of our sets of shoulder pads slightly used,” Randall explained. “Tweedsmuir helped us out by getting us some of their older pads and gave us a sweetheart deal on that. Brien Gemmell, their athletic director, is also the president of B.C. High School Football, so he gets it and has the big picture in mind as well.”
Around a dozen years ago, Randall was a student-athlete who was eager to get a football program going at Seaquam Secondary in North Delta, and helped make it happen there.
“We re-started the program there, and I was a kid playing community football,” Randall recalled. “It was myself and my family who spearheaded that, so things have come full-circle for me that way. My parents have a laugh about some of the headaches I’m dealing with right now, because they remember their own problems with getting all that going.”
Today, a Grade 12-er named Caden McTaggart is the player driving that bus. He’s played a couple of seasons of club football in White Rock with the Titans, and since Grade 8 has talked about making a football program happen at Sullivan Heights — with PE teachers, students and anyone else who’d listen.
“It’s been a cool experience seeing all this happen,” said McTaggart, who’ll play as a receiver and free safety. “It’s finally happened. I thought we could do it, and I was in Mr. Randall’s class back in Grade 10 and talked about that, and sure enough, here we are today getting the season going.”
Over the Labour Day long weekend the Stars travelled to Stevenson, WA, for a cross-border game against a small-town team, and were schooled 55-0.
While the game itself was a tough one, it was a great experience for us going down to Stevenson for our first game. Our hosts were first class, and our guys got some great bonding in! Thanks, @SHSBulldogsAth1 ! pic.twitter.com/dYIIdyxBAx
— Sullivan Heights Football (@SHStarsFootball) September 2, 2018
No question, the new Surrey teams will have their hands full as a first-year program.
“We’re such a large school that we got thrown into the AAA division right away, and it’s going to be a challenge for us right now, obviously,” McTaggart noted. “But our coaching staff is so great and we’ve learned lots every day, and honestly, from what I’ve seen, we’ve got just as much of a chance in our division than anybody else.”
The Varsity Stars will travel to Chilliwack on Saturday (Sept. 8) for a season-opener against Sardis, followed by a home-opener Friday (Sept. 14) at Cloverdale Athletic Park.
Meanwhile, the Junior Varsity squad gets going Thursday (Sept. 6) at Cloverdale Athletic Park in an exhibition matchup with Seaquam. They play another pre-season contest the following Wednesday (Sept. 12) at Handsworth.
League schedules, scores and standings are posted at bchighschoolfootball.com.
Randall said he’s impressed with how many students at Sullivan Heights wanted to get involved in playing football.
“It was very well received here, and we have around a dozen kids in the program who have played some football in the past, in local community organizations — a couple of White Rock guys from last year, a couple guys at North Surrey, stuff like that,” he said. “They’re all happy to have the opportunity to play high school ball, and that’s what we wanted.”
As for the jerseys, that’s Randall’s “baby,” down to the Star Wars-styled ‘S’ of Sullivan Heights.
“I designed the Varsity uniforms, and the JV ones aren’t quite as fancy, and that was something deliberate because I want the JV guys to want to get to the next level and wear the nicer jerseys, work toward that,” he explained. “Every detail is something I designed myself, the idea being I wanted a unique look for us and noticeably be our brand. One subject I’ve taught in the past is marketing, so branding is a big part of that.”
The helmets have a particular shine to them, no question.
“I wanted something striking, something where kids go, ‘I want to wear that! I might not play football yet, but that looks cool.’ But they have to earn it. And Stars is the school program name here, and a few people said to me, ‘Are you really going to go with Stars? You have to find a better name than that.’ But it’s our school name, and you work with what you’re given. I’m not going to say that the name all the other teams play under here isn’t good enough for us. That doesn’t work for me. And then others said just go with the Dallas Cowboys look, with that star on the helmet, which would have been easy. But then we’re the Dallas Cowboys, we’re not the Sullivan Stars, right. This way, we’re the Sullivan Heights Stars, something unique.”