FOOTBALL GOING STRONG IN AND OUT OF CITIES


Joel Mukenei hopes he’s not a part of a dying breed.

The student from Lumsden High School was one of only 14 athletes from rural schools to make this year’s South team for the Senior Bowl. The majority of the top graduating players who made the final 45-man cut hail from inside the Regina Intercollegiate Football League.

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Mukenei and four of his Lumsden Devils teammates, who all attended the final practice on Saturday at Mosaic Stadium, play in a Saskatchewan High Schools Athletic Association-sanctioned nine-man league. Their opponents come from communities like Shaunavon, Maple Creek and Gull Lake.

Mukenei didn’t notice a lot of his opponents at Senior Bowl workouts, but that didn’t worry him.

“Football is probably the most popular sport at our school and at all of these other schools we go to,” he said. “There’s always a lot of support, a lot of fans at our games. It’s a pretty big deal.”

Last year’s number of rural athletes on the South squad was in the single digits, one of the lowest turnouts for rural-based players in recent years.

But it’s not cause for concern for Mike Thomas, the executive director of Football Saskatchewan.

“Football is alive and well in rural communities in Saskatchewan,” he said. “Senior Bowl numbers aren’t the be-all and end-all of things. In no way does this roster signal that football is dying outside of the city.”

By comparison, the North roster has a larger sample of rural-based players simply because of its expanded pool from which to draw players. The number of six- and nine-man programs is greater in the Saskatoon and Prince Albert areas.

Thomas knew earlier in the spring that the South roster wouldn’t see a lot of rural participation just from the low number of kids who signed up to attend camp.

He suggested some of the top players from the nine-man league may have felt better suited for events like SasKota, an annual clash between the best nine-man players from Saskatchewan and North Dakota.

Other commitments like helping out on the family farm could also come into play.

“(Being a part of this team) takes up a lot of time,” Thomas said. “It takes up three weekends just for camps and evaluation. The (Senior Bowl) game itself is on (the Victoria Day) long weekend, so that’s a lot of time for some kids who might have to be at home helping out with farming at this time of the year.”

The fact that the RIFL was balanced and competitive at the 3A and 4A levels this past season meant the crop of graduating athletes from Regina would be a strong one.

“It would have been nice to carry a roster of 80, because we could have easily done that with the talent we had,” Thomas said.

A glance at the rosters of the University of Regina Rams and Regina Thunder would also show that those teams rely on the talent from communities like Kelliher, Southey, Foam Lake and Unity.

“You can see those high school programs stamping their name on a lot of university and junior football teams,” Thomas said. “Sure, you’re going to see a lot more kids from the city on these teams, but that’s just because of numbers.

“Football is still extremely popular outside of the city.”

The Senior Bowl game is slated for May 24 at 1 p.m., at Griffiths Stadium in Saskatoon.
The South has won the past three games.

By Craig Slater, Leader-Post May 17

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