Standing on the edge of Chapman Field in Fredericton, as 100 men in full gear took to the gridiron before an electric crowd of 2,000-strong, Barry Ogden received the only reward he wanted.

“I thought, ‘we’ve already won,'” Ogden recalled of the first-ever Atlantic Football League contest between the University of New Brunswick Fredericton Red Bombers and UNB Saint John Seawolves on Sept. 26, 2009.

“We’ve created some pride and opportunity here.”

photo by: Cindy Wilson/Telegraph-Journal

For Ogden, the scene was the fruit of four years of labour in which he travelled, consulted, crunched numbers and lobbied for the establishment of affordable university football in the Maritimes.

Those countless hours blossomed into the AFL last year and led to the 54-year-old Saint John man being named Football New Brunswick’s Volunteer of the Year for 2009. Ogden was presented the provincial award Saturday during the association’s annual general meeting and banquet in Oromocto.

In total, eight awards were dolled out, with the notable Gridiron Award going to Susan Ans of Sussex for her work establishing minor football in that community.
“I’m really flattered, because there are an awful lot of volunteers in this province,” Ogden said of the recognition.

“One thing about volunteering your time and doing things for other people, you never have failure as long as you’re trying. Failure is when you stop trying.”
In that respect, Ogden – who’s motto reads ‘yes means yes and no means maybe’ – will never know defeat.

“He is the eternal optimist, always thinking things will fall in place,” said Terry McIntyre, who nominated Ogden for the award.

“Of course, that’s not always what happens but thinking it’s going to happen is half the battle.”

McIntyre, treasurer of the Capital Area Minor Football Association, said Ogden achieved by sheer determination what legions of Red Bombers alumni had tried since the school’s football program was cut in 1980.

Known around Saint John for his work in the Marco Polo Project and the Marigolds on Main Street campaign, the community activist wanted to create a venue for athletes to keep playing football after high school.

In 2005 he started visiting and calling a number of universities across the country with football programs to compare numbers and budgets, trying to determine an affordable option for this province.

He settled on the club team model, made the pitch and, four years later, reveled as some 150 athletes got to play what he considers the greatest game on earth.

Asked how significant the new gridiron loop is for football in this region, McIntyre offered an anecdote about his sons, once captains of their football teams at Fredericton High.

“One (son) spent three years at (Mount Alison University) and never dressed for a game; the other spent four at Acadia and didn’t get to play very much,” McIntyre said.
“That’s what happens in (Canadian Interuniversity Sport) football, the Maritime boys end up filling out the bench. In the AFL, we’re going with Maritime kids and providing them with an opportunity to play post-secondary institution-based football at home.”

The league will have five teams in the upcoming season, as squads from Halifax and Charlottetown joined on – marking the first time in 35 years university ball will be played in all three Atlantic provinces. “And Barry’s been the guy, the whirling dervish to make this all happen,” McIntyre said.

For Ans, taking home the Gridiron Award pales in comparison to the satisfaction she gets every time a youngster steps on the field in a program she helped create.

“It’s just such a joy to watch those kids get excited during a game and to watch them grow and learn to play,” said the president of the Sussex County Football Association.
“(The award is) recognition for the volunteer work I’ve done, but for me it’s more recognizing the volunteer work that we as a group in Sussex have done to bring football to this area.”

In 2005, there wasn’t a single minor football squad in Sussex. Today, the sport is thriving and Ans was instrumental in that transformation.

In 2006, she and a core of gentlemen’s league players who formed the association fielded a boy’s peewee team – which in their first year advanced to Fundy Minor Football’s championship game.

Each year they added a new team; bantam, then a high school squad which two years later won the New Brunswick Interscholastic Athletic Association’s 10-man provincial championship.

Last year they filled out the feeder system with an atom program.

“They’ve done a fine job developing the game and Sue was a driving force,” said Bruce Watts, former vice president of Fundy Minor Foootball – the association which nominated Ans. “They’ve come a long way in five years and you have to have that local leadership in order start these programs. Someone who’s willing to find volunteers and recruit kids and officials and book fields,” Watts said.


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