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B.C. high school football season set for weekend kick-off despite province-wide labour dispute

VANCOUVER — B.C. high school football will open its 2014 season on schedule this weekend, but not without a number of games being lost due to the current labour dispute between the B.C. Teachers Federation and the provincial government.

The B.C. Secondary Schools Football Association’s revamped first-week schedule shows that seven of 23 regularly-scheduled games have been cancelled (full schedule and rankings below).

“In August our overseeing body, B.C. School Sports, issued a statement that would allow the continuation of extra-curricular activities this fall in the event of a labour disruption,” said BCSSFA vice-president Kris Pechet in a prepared statement. “We see no reason to take away the choice that BCSS is making available to individual member schools. In the event that any member schools choose not to play, we will respect those decisions, and those schools will not be penalized. In addition, we also plan to respect all formal picket lines.”

Added BCSSFA president Bernie Crump: “We are cautiously optimistic that everything will go fine this weekend. We’re hoping to give the kids something and allow them to play. But things could change tomorrow.”

This season, the BCSSFA said that between Grade 8, junior varsity (Grade 9-10) and senior varsity (Grade 11-12) programs, a total of 3,100 student-athletes are competing.

Last spring, in anticipation of continued labour disruption, some teams stored their equipment off school property in advance of fall camps. In many cases, teams which normally practice on school grounds, have moved those practices to community parks. And although several coaches who teach in public schools and coach high school teams told The Province they have been offered no formal directive from the BCTF on whether or not they can coach, it is known that some have elected not to be on the sidelines when their teams play this weekend.

However at least one longtime teacher, stressing the importance of athletics in public high schools, will be coaching when his team takes to the field on Friday.

“I just feel there is a need for organized sports in the school environment,” said Denis Kelly, head coach of the senior varsity team at Triple-A tiered W.J. Mouat Secondary in Abbotsford, following his picket duty on Wednesday morning. “The example being set for the kids right now is absolutely terrible They see people arguing. There has been years of bickering and bitterness, and there is a lack of stability in the education system. It leaves them with a terrible example of leadership from their community.”

Kelly, 63 and a phys ed teacher at Mouat, is entering his 28th season coaching the Hawks. His program has sent over 50 student-athletes to the ranks of university football. Fully in support of what his fellow teachers are fighting for, Kelly is also of the mind that the team experience so duly provided by high school athletics is something young people should not be denied.

“We try to provide an opportunity for kids where if they put in a good, honest effort, they will get results,” continued Kelly. “We want them to see that people are concerned about their well-being, and they see that in so very few other areas. So I think this is a valuable service and we have to protect it. It’s not considered part of the teaching contract. It’s voluntary and they have no right to dictate what we do in our volunteer hours.”

Among the games cancelled this weekend is the annual Buchanan Bowl derby in North Vancouver between Carson Graham and Handsworth, a game that had been played 27 straight years.

Nothing is concrete concerning the status of the following week’s schedule. Larry Reda, chairman of the Subway Bowl B.C. championship playoffs, said a contingency plan is in place which would allow the season to conclude on Dec. 13, one week later than presently scheduled. A labour dispute in 2005 forced the midseason cancellation of three straight weeks of play before the schedule resumed in late October.

Among the other high school sports which would be affected should the labour dispute continue are volleyball, cross-country running and boys soccer.

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