Friday involved a couple of firsts for Surrey’s Sullivan Heights Stars.
The senior football team played their first ever home game on a field adjacent to the school, three years after the program got off the ground.
Also that Sept. 10 afternoon, the Stars were involved in their first game in nearly two years, due to the pandemic.
“It was really exciting, and you saw the crowd that was there,” said head coach Gord Randall.
The Stars didn’t shine in the scoreboard, as they fell 44-0 to North Delta’s Seaquam Seahawks in an exhibition non-conference battle.
The Sullivan Heights team typically plays home games at Cloverdale Athletic Park, but Randall convinced Surrey Beavers officials to allow the Stars to play a “one-off” football game on the rugby club’s field, just north of the school, at 64th Avenue and 144th Street.
“There was a fair amount of interest in the game (Friday), which is why I went to all the extra effort to have the game there, because I felt it could help drum up interest and support, especially given that our numbers are not great right now,” Randall said. “Hopefully it’s a nice recruiting tool for us.”
PHOTOS: For first time in nearly 2 years, high school football teams play again in #SurreyBC.@BCSchoolSports @GARandall @SHStarsFootball @SeaquamSeahawks @BCHighschoolFB https://t.co/6U7xEvCvxM pic.twitter.com/Hfq52IxEpk
— Tom Zillich (@TomZillich) September 14, 2021
— BC School Sports (@BCSchoolSports) September 13, 2021
Last fall, the pandemic forced the cancellation of all high school games in B.C., but community football clubs were allowed to play. That situation, Randall says, has led to reduced interest in football at schools across the province.
“We lost a lot of players to community clubs, like Cloverdale and North Surrey,” Randall noted. “They kept going last fall and we didn’t, other than the practices we had. Now some players are kind of hesitant to switch over and play with us, because the clubs were there for them when we weren’t. That’s a struggle.
“In most sports,” the coach added, “clubs have outstripped high school anyway, with basketball and football kind of being the two notable holdouts, where high school sports is still the be-all and end-all in most places. Unfortunately, it feels like even that dynamic, with football and basketball, might be shifting as well. I’m biased, but I think that would be a crying shame.”
Randall, who teaches at Sullivan Heights and is an analyst on TSN’s Krown Gridiron Nation college football show, launched Sullivan Heights’ football program back in 2018.
This year, the Stars’ season will be a “regular” one for the Pacific conference team, with a game in Mission on Saturday afternoon (Sept. 18) and another at Frank Hurt the Saturday after that, on Sept. 25.
All B.C. high school football scores and schedules are posted to bchighschoolfootball.com.
“In terms of scheduling, it’s a regular year,” Randall noted. “But I was just talking to Gary Atwal, one of our athletic directors, and he’s the coach of the senior boys soccer team here, which is ranked top-10 in the province. He was telling me he’s having a hard time getting players out. School sports is a challenge across the board right now. I’m looking around B.C. high school football, and it’s struggling. And the reason we haven’t heard more about other sports is they’re just not off the ground yet.
“I think it’s because we were off last year, and we’ve just lost momentum,” Randall added. “I’m finding that with my own program. You naturally will have that attrition rate of three, four, five guys going out for various reasons, and you can usually replace them with three, four, five guys, give or take, and keep rolling with the status quo. But now, I lost those handful of guys and they were never replaced because there was no collective consciousness that we were even going (as a football team). It didn’t feel like something that was relevant and ongoing, and had no momentum behind it. That’s one of the struggles.”
Friday’s home game saw the return of a few Stars players who were on the 2019 roster as Grade 10s, prior to the pandemic.
“They’re fired up to play,” he said of his players. “They were excited to play and brought a lot of energy – probably too excited at the start and maybe that’s why we wilted a little in the second quarter there,” when the Seahawks scored several touchdowns.
Like others in his position, along with players and those who love watching the high school game, Randall missed football last season.
“For me, there were subtle things that I didn’t realize I missed until game day – things like chatting with the other coaches during warmup. It’s great to be playing games again, for sure.”
In other exhibition games that involved Surrey-area teams Friday (Sept. 10), Holy Cross beat Abbotsford 30-8 on Sept. 10, Earl Marriott fell 43-0 to Terry Fox, and Lord Tweedsmuir topped New Westminster, 7-0.