What started as a dream has quickly become one of the biggest success stories in Prince Albert’s rich sporting history.
The Prince Albert River Riders minor football program has filled a void for young football enthusiasts and helped pave the way for more success at the high school level.
“It’s a grassroots program that is feeding the high school programs,” says Mike St. Amand, the offensive co-ordinator for the bantam River Riders. “Minor football is so beneficial because it is the team first and there is also so much parent involvement.”
Up until seven years ago there was just the one option to play football – Carlton Comprehensive High School. Then St. Mary High School got its program back in operation after more than a decade on the sidelines and to complete the circle, a local group organized the minor football program with an initial injection of cash from the Prince Albert Kinsmen Club.
Steadily the minor program attracted young players and last year not only did the pee wee and bantam teams achieve a higher level of success, but so did the high schools with both Carlton and St. Mary advancing to the semifinals in the Saskatoon High School Football League.
“For the pee wees, the knowledge and skills that they have is better than what I thought,” admits St. Amand. “(Both levels) understand what we know and what we are teaching.”
“Minor football is not about winning,” adds St. Amand. “This is about teaching fundamentals and making sure they understand it is the team first.”
The pee wee division is open to players 10-12 years of age and the bantams are for 13-14 year olds. Wendell Whitter is the head coach for the pee wee River Riders while Jim McLachlan, the former head coach at Carlton, is guiding the bantam squad.
Both Prince Albert teams will play eight games each during the regular season, which begins on Wednesday, with the pee wee club in Saskatoon to play the Babineau Warriors while the bantams are also in Saskatoon to take on the Knoll Panthers.
The first home game for each squad will be on Sept. 9 when the Ledingham Steelers from Saskatoon will be the opposition in both divisions.
There has always been a huge interest in football and many years ago when there were as many as five high schools in Prince Albert it was one of the social events of the week when doubleheaders were played at the field at PACI. Maybe that social impact will return now that the level of play and amount of interest has increased.