Youth football sessions boost sport’s local profile

It may still be early in the summer and the team itself won’t hit the field for months, but the future of the Creighton Community School (CCS) Kodiaks football program is in construction, thanks in part to grant funding, new equipment and youth outreach.

A series of lunchtime sessions have been introducing younger players to football. The sessions, for students in Grades 6 and 7, began in early May after Kodiaks football coach Ryan Karakochuk received a grant for new equipment through Canadian Tire’s Jumpstart program.

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“We got all new junior footballs, flag vests, some training gear to be able to train the little kids more – not quite get them in full equipment, but give them the basic stuff that we need and to help put football equipment at the gym so they have it for their phys-ed classes as well,” Karakochuk said.

When the sessions began, the number of interested students was in the single digits. For the final session of the season last week, 22 kids showed up for some training and a pickup two-hand-touch football game.

The Creighton football program is entering its fifth season. Growth with new students has been the key to keeping the program going, with Karakochuk hoping to get a large group of junior high students at CCS engaged and knowledgeable with the game.

“Once you get into Grade 9, you’re eligible to play on the high school team. I kind of wanted to get that Grade 6 and 7 rolling for a couple years as they develop and once they get to Grade 9, they’ll be that much more knowledgeable about the game,” Karakochuk said.

“There’s such a large group of kids in those two grades and there’s really nothing for them. There’s not much junior sports and you don’t play senior until Grades 9 and 10.”

Sessions like these are part of the reason why Karakochuk says the team is expecting a jump in players eligible next season. This year, five eligible players, including four key members of the team, graduated from the program. Twelve new players from Grade 8 represented the school at the recent Northern Saskatchewan Football Jamboree, with almost all expected to join the Kodiaks in the fall.

“Even though we’re losing seniors, we’re gaining more participants as they’re going to grow up and go through their grades. That’s what we want. That’s how the program is supposed to work,” he said.

“I’ve been teaching some of the other sports in Grade 5-6-7 categories and the numbers there are huge. There’s two classes in all of those grades and the numbers for soccer in those grades are super high. I expect a lot to transfer over to playing football, which is great for us,” Karakochuk said.

With that in mind, one goal for the football program is to find more equipment. Last season, the Kodiaks hit the field with 18 players, far fewer than the team’s rivals in Cumberland House and Sandy Bay. Karakochuk hopes to end up with enough equipment to suit 40 future Kodiaks players.

“It’s great with the numbers, but we also have to think about getting more equipment. That means more fundraising, more grants. That’s my responsibility and that’s what you want in the program. It’s never a negative,” said Karakochuk.

As far as the recent lunch-time instruction sessions, the coach said he was pleased with the youngsters’ level of engagement.

“You never know what to expect, but the point is they had fun from the start. I’m happy that they all stuck with it,” he said.

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