Stallions hoping for a return to the gridiron this summer with flag football league

"These kids are missing out on the skill development, especially these last couple of years"

With COVID-19 cases falling, vaccinations on the rise, the stay-at-home order set to expire and more and more talk of loosening restrictions, Chris Forde remains hopeful a return to the gridiron is on the horizon for the Huronia Stallions.

The Stallions vice-president knows a return to play would make a world of difference for the kids in his organization and all the other sports.

He understands just how much it would mean to the kids to be out there with their friends, especially after what’s been an extremely trying year dealing with the pandemic. 

“It’s been a while since I’ve been in their shoes, but these teenagers must be chomping at the bit to do something,” said Forde, who believes the kids and everyone just might learn to appreciate things a little bit more after having so much taken away. “I don’t have a teenager either so I don’t fully see what they’re going through every day, but they just want to be with their friends.

“They want to experience life again as they knew it and sports for many of them is a big part of that aspect of life that they want to get back to.”

Just the chance to be in the locker room with the guys, says Forde. To experience that camaraderie and that teamwork and team effort is all really important.

“One way or another, we hope we can give that to them in the coming weeks to months,” he said. “We got to stop this pandemic and get things as close to back to normal as we can as quickly as possible.”

The Stallions have prepared for return, be it full tackle or flag football. The organization recently announced, if the province allows for it, a co-ed flag football league this summer with a tentative schedule that would see it start June 15 and run to August 5.

Both Football Canada and Ontario Football have a return to play that is a staged protocol with one of the earlier stages being flag football.

“We’re setting that up in preparation for that stage of return to play,” Forde said. “At the same time, we really don’t know if the government is going to allow tackle football yet. We’re hopeful, but we’re not banking on it obviously.

“That being said, if it’s late summer and the government would allow something like that, we’ll look to do a fall league.”

A lot of that, explains Forde, will be contingent on whether there is a high school football season. There just aren’t enough players to split between the Stallions program and high school.

If the high schools decide not to run a football program this fall, the Stallions would run some form of tackle football if they’re cleared to do so by the health unit and province.

“We obviously want the kids back playing,” Forde said. “Flag football is a way to get kids at least active again, back on the field doing some fundamentals.

“There’s a lot of crossover between skills and flag and tackle, so we want to get kids out of their homes and active as soon as it’s deemed safe and allowable to do so.”

Forde admits a second missed summer season would be tough for the kids. He says the program has so many fabulous young athletes, including players in the Grade 11 age group who have serious university potential.

“They’ll still get a shot, but it’s really hard for universities to try and base their decisions on two-year-old film,” he explained. “It’s terrible for them. The whole world is going through it obviously, but when you look at those individual stories it hurts.

“It’s really bad for these kids. All we can do is hope and pray that they get a shot to be active again and soon.”

Missing a year in development can truly make a difference, let alone two years. Should the Stallions not be able to get on the field and high school programs have to cancel their season this fall, that would be four consecutive seasons without football.

“We hope that’s not the case,” Forde said. “The difference in any athlete in that time frame is massive. Whether these kids are hitting the height in their growth spurts, gaining weight and muscle. The difference from a 16-year-old Grade 11 kid up until an 18-year-old Grade 12 plus kid it’s just night and day. Just the physicality on top of their skill level.

“These kids are missing out on the skill development, especially these last couple of years.”

Flag football would be a return to that for at least some of the positions, Forde said.

“It’s not the most conducive environment for some of our big guys, our offensive and defensive linemen, but we want to get them involved too,” said Forde, who is also the head coach of the St. Joan of Arc High School senior boys football team. “There’s no reason they can’t play and have fun. Just be out there and be teenagers again.

“It’s not just for our skilled quarterbacks, receivers, defensive backs, it’s for the bigger guys as well.”

The house league co-ed divisions will include Mustang (2011-2012), Pony (2009-10), Colt (2007-08), a female Varsity (2001-06) and male varsity (2001-06).

If there’s enough interest, the Stallions could run a girls only format.

Throughout the years girls have played in the Stallions program and Forde would love to see those numbers grow, even if it’s just for the flag football.

“Some of them, especially at the younger age, there’s no reason they can’t play tackle football,” he said.

Be it a full tackled season or just flag football this summer, Forde says the Stallions are ready.

“We’re waiting and we’re ready as soon as the government makes a call or gives us some kind of announcement, we’ll be prepared and ready to go,” Forde said. “The fields are booked; the equipment is sitting waiting and ready.

“We have a number of kids already signed up, and if and when the government opens up the regulation, we expect a good rush of kids coming out as well.”

The Stallions are still accepting tackle registrations and Forde says they can easily be transitioned to flag football with the difference in money being reimbursed.

The organization has also hired former Stallion and Bear Creek Secondary School student Tivon Cook, who led St. Francis of Xavier in Antigonish, Nova Scotia to three Atlantic University Sport championships, as its quarterback coach.

“We just really want to get the message out to people that both tackle football and flag football are ready to go,” he said. “The Stallions organization has been synonymous with football in Simcoe County for almost 30 years and we’re the ones that have been doing it this long and we do it well.”

The Stallions Flag Football League will run twice a week for 90 minutes each night (30-minute practice, followed by a 60-minute game) on Tuesdays and Thursdays and will feature Football Canada certified coaches.

All Ontario Government protocols will be strictly enforced. Cost is $250 and includes a team uniform, insurance, flags and field rental.

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images via Huronia Stallions