The Prince Albert River Riders bantam and peewee teams hit the field for their first practice of the 2014 season on Monday evening.
© Herald photo by Kristen McEwen
Two bantam River Riders face off during practice on the field adjacent to Crescent Heights Arena on Monday evening.
Peewee coach Ryan Hughes and bantam coach Joey Hemsworth gathered the young athletes on the field adjacent to the Crescent Heights Arena.
The two age groups were divided and practice began on the north and south ends of the field.
At the peewee end of the field, kids are learning the basics of throwing, catching and running with the pigskin.
Peewee coach Ryan Hughes, who coached the bantam team when the River Riders began in 2007, added that football is another opportunity for kids to play in Prince Albert.
“(This) is where you find the gems,” he said. “Kids might think, ‘Well, I’m no good,’ and all of a sudden this is the sport they lucked out on.
“We’ve had real successful kids who’ve been playing in Carlton, they’ve been in five years, six years of football now,” Hughes added. “That’s just the benefit of having a strong high school program and a stronger minor program.”
The River Rider minor football program has given many athletes a head start in Prince Albert and has assisted them in their football careers.
Carlton Comprehensive High School graduate Lukas McConechy had his start in the minor football league. The extra years playing with the River Riders before joining up with the Carlton Crusaders helped him earn a spot on the Regina Thunder roster in the Canadian Junior football league.
“He’s a prime example of playing football over the last few years and then playing in high school and now he’s stepped up to play post-secondary kind of ball,” Hughes said.
St. Mary Marauder senior Luke Tkatchuk is another River Rider alumnus. He played with the Saskatchewan Green this July in the 2014 U18 Canada Cup at Griffiths Stadium in Saskatoon.
“We just give kids the opportunity to play,” said bantam coach Joey Hemsworth. “When these coaches were kids, this program wasn’t around.
“I started playing when I was 15 years old,” Hemsworth added. “You get these kids to start playing when they’re 10 years old, like how Saskatoon and Regina has for so long, and you see kids develop better.”
Hemsworth hopes this season will be good for the River Riders. With majority of the athletes returning as veteran players, or with some experience in the peewee level, the combined experience of the team is high.
This year the River riders have about 61 kids registered in the peewee division and 36 registered in bantam.
Although the number appears to be high, Hughes says the team is always looking for more players.
“This year we have an influx of 61 players, we don’t want to turn anyone away,” he said. “We don’t want people to hear that number and think people can’t sign up.”
Though practice is already underway, registration is still open until the second week of September when the roster is locked down.