High school teams putting pressure on midget football

The Winnipeg High School Football League and the Midget Football League of Manitoba have coexisted for decades and both have thrived.

Community-based football doesn’t really exist anywhere else in Canada, says Joe Doiron, president of the MFLM. “They (midget-level teams) all have ties to their schools. We are kind of like an anomaly here, inasmuch as we offer community-based programs for 15- to 17-year-old players.”

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However, with the WHSFL growing to 33 teams this year, Doiron says there is definitely an impact on his league, but maintains there’s still enough players to go around.

The WHSFL will begin its 77th season this fall with three new teams: Dakota Lancers, Steinbach Sabres and Stonewall Rams. Dakota and Steinbach encroach on the St. Vital Mustangs and Eastman Raiders catchment areas.

Last season, Vincent Massey Trojans entered the WHSFL and the Fort Garry Lions midgets did not field a team, but have regrouped, and are back this year. Three years ago, Murdoch MacKay Clansmen and Kildonan East Reivers fielded high school teams and the Transcona Nationals had to scramble to keep their midget team afloat, but the East Side Eagles dropped out. The Nationals are doing fine now, but the Eagles have not returned.

When Sturgeon Creek and Silver Heights high schools amalgamated to form Sturgeon Heights Huskies, St. James Rods midgets dropped out and they’re not expected back anytime soon.

“We would love to have access to the schools that don’t have football programs,” Doiron said.

As it stands, he says there are no rules that bar high school coaches from openly recruiting players from the midget league.

“To be quite honest, I don’t see it as being a competition between us and high school,” said Lions president Richard Holden. “We want a co-operative relationship with the high schools. Our overall goal is to make sure young people have an equal opportunity to learn to play football.”

Christian Sanchez, president of the defending midget champion Eastman Raiders, says they and the Steinbach Regional High School Sabres are both doing nicely.

“Its a different kind of beast out here,” Sanchez said. “We draw more from the area of southeast Manitoba, so we have a larger catchment area than the school does. If we were in the North End (of Winnipeg), it might be a little bit different with all the high schools out there.”

Actually, the North Winnipeg Nomads thrive in the North End despite competing with WHSFL’s Sisler, St. John’s, Maples, Garden City and Tec Voc teams for high school-age talent.

“(The MFLM) can’t accommodate all the players who want to play,” said Doiron, who is also vice-president of the St. Vital Mustangs midgets.

“We’re not concerned about being inferior, and we certainly don’t consider ourselves superior to other football programs. The bottom line is creating opportunities for 15- to 17-year-old athletes who want to play, so we have no problem sharing. There are many high schools out here that don’t have football programs. In terms of opportunities, I believe it’s a good situation.”

Though the Rods and East Side Eagles are gone, the MFLM is adding a new team– the Pembina Valley Cornhuskers. “They’ll draw from the Morden, Carman, Morris, Altona and Winkler area,” Doiron said.

“The two leagues can operate together for now,” he said, “but if the day comes when every high school has a team, then we’re looking at a very different situation. As long as there is an opportunity out there to attract players, we’ll be there for them.”

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