Those attributes combine to make a winning football team, but they also serve those players well in life.
While many are celebrating the on-field achievements of the Cardston High School Cougars in winning the Tier III provincial championship, coach Jim Fletcher is also quick to praise the character-building opportunities it provided his players – including two students from Magrath High School.
The score sheet attracts a lot of attention, but sports – especially school athletics – should be more than just wins and losses.
“I’ve been around the game for a while and it’s a good game to build boys and to build good, young men if you do things the right way,” says Fletcher, who moved up from assistant to head coach three games into the season after health issues sidelined Byron Pierson.
Dedication and commitment are a must for all student-athletes, he says, as their life can be a “grind” with practice on top of schoolwork and any chores the players may have on top of that.
“(Sports) teaches them to organize their time and use their time wisely,’ Fletcher says.
He noted the sacrifices made by the team’s two players from Magrath High School, Brandon Clukey and Gage Beck, and their parents. Both boys were starters this year, with Clukey a Grade 12 halfback/slotback. Beck is expected to start again next year on both the offensive and defensive lines.
“There’s a little bit more of a commitment there and they do make sacrifices above and beyond just so they can play,” Fletcher says. And for the families, think about them driving every day, just the gas money alone.”
He’s very appreciative of their efforts and hopes more students from Magrath will consider joining the Cougars ranks.
The Cougars accomplished every goal they set this football season, including winning the league championship, going undefeated in league play and qualifying for the provincial final, which they won with a 56-12 victory over the Ardrossen Bisons.
“That was a really good lesson for them. If you do have a plan and work to accomplish that plan, good things happen,” says Fletcher.
Rick Gilson, Westwind School Division’s Director of Inclusive Learning who is also the Alberta Schools’ Athletic Association (ASAA) commissioner of Football, was impressed by the Cougars’ level of play and felt they had a strong opportunity to advance to the provincial final.
He was especially proud to present ASAA sportsmanship pins to Cougars Spencer Miller and Jordan Vair.
“I was very pleased to repeatedly observe both young men, and several others on the team, repeatedly helping their opponents up, carrying themselves throughout the game in a manner that celebrated the game and their accomplishments in an appropriate manner,” says Gilson. “Cougars were full measure for their championship.”
Teamwork was essential this season as well, says Fletcher, who praised the sacrifices everyone made for a common goal. He noted the younger players on the roster who might not have seen a lot of playing time but pushed the starters to be better each day in practice.
“Teamwork – being part of a team – for most people that’s a life-long thing. The team may change from being a sports team to being an educational team or a work team or whatever else they are working with, but they’re always going to be working with other people,” Fletcher says.
While some claim losing builds as much or more character than winning, don’t assume this version of the Cougars didn’t face any adversity because of their undefeated season.
Not only did they lose their head coach suddenly and unexpectedly, team dynamics always means a little give and take on the players’ part. Anytime you have 40 different personalities working together there are bound to be some differences in opinions at times. A true team can deal with those issues, put them aside and treat each other with respect.
“The fact they were able to stay united and unified throughout the year with not a lot of in-fighting, I’m proud of them for that as well,” says Fletcher.
The Cardston High School Cougars also learned the importance of having support for their efforts, something that won’t be lost on them in the workplace. That came in many forms, says Fletcher, whether it was parents, the pep band and the cheer squad, or the friends and family who lined up to watch the team return to town with an escort of emergency lights and sirens. The coaching staff and helpers – which included Ben Brooks, Dylan Ferguson, Ben Nish, Wes Card and Lloyd Retzer, Dale Murray and Mike Fletcher – shouldn’t be overlooked either.
The interim head coach also gave a thumbs up to the CHS basketball coaches, who patiently allowed players to focus their efforts on football just a little bit longer.
Fortunately for them, success often breeds more success. Both the girls and boys basketball teams won provincials this past year and now the school has a football title under its belt as well.
“It’s like I told the boys after our game Friday. Now they have to get focused for basketball. Win or not we’ll see, but their attitude going in is they’re gunning for top gun because there’s that expectation for winning,” says Fletcher.
There will be challenges next year, however, as the Cougars will graduate 12 seniors and seven of those were league all-stars including Spencer Miller (two rushing touchdowns and 256 yards gained in the final), Jordan Creason (one TD catch and top tackler) and Grayden Klain (one TD catch and two interceptions).
Fletcher points out the team will, however, see the return of all-star quarterback Tanner Quinton (three rushing TDs in the final), almost all of its offensive line and some strong Grade 10 players next year. And one of the beauties of high school sports is that there’s always a new crop of players each year, waiting for their chance to shine.
“I hope we just reload instead of rebuild,” says Fletcher. “Knock on wood it stays that way for three, four, five years.”
For more information on happenings within the Westwind School Division, go to our website at http://www.westwind.ab.ca or check us out on our social media network through Facebook at Westwind School Division No. 74 or on Twitter at Westwind Division 74.