A high school in Châteauguay, Que., is getting ready for some high school football. After five decades, the Blazers are back. As a matter of fact, the last time Howard S. Billings sent a football team on the field, they weren't even called the Blazers.
"Kids are running up to me 'Coach, coach, coach. Is it true? Is it true? Is it true?'" said Luc Pelland, who will guide the school's first football team since way back when Pierre Elliott Trudeau was prime minister and gasoline cost about 39 cents per gallon (Canada didn't change to the metric system until a year later).
Pelland is used to the x's and o's of coaching, having held a whistle for both McGill and Concordia universities' football teams among others, but he says organizing a team from the ground up is new to him.
"It's an exciting challenge. We are going to build the culture. There's been a lot of negative news right now with the culture on some of the teams with hazing and all that and we get to start from scratch and build that culture and we'll be inclusive."
Pelland says Blazer fever is already spreading across the school.
"Even from our other teachers who have ideas, you know, Home Ec 'we want to do their food' AV (audio-video) 'we want to film and do video.' So there's already a cross-curricular kind of excitement from the other teachers, too."
Blast from the past
Howard S. Billings turfed its football program after the 1974 season. The man who coached until the final whistle, Larry Tomlinson, said it made sense at the time because back then, scheduling conflicts meant local players in Chateauguay had to choose between high school football or the city team.
Tomlinson said both programs were suffering because they were competing against one another to recruit players.
Now with another local high school, Louis-Philippe-Paré school, also fielding a team, the emphasis will be on inter-school competition.
Tomlinson, a former Montreal Alouette, is happy to see students can once again represent their high school.
"The government decided that they wanted to have more sports programs to keep students in the schools and it's very encouraging. It's good for the school and good for the program."
The 82-year-old cannot get coaching out of his blood and will spend time helping Blazer receivers hone their skills.
Both Tomlinson and Pelland believe a strong athletic program makes staying in school more attractive to teenagers. Future Blazer Jahki Parkinson can't wait to get started.
"To find out that my high school is finally going to have a team, which I've been wanting since I first came here, but it took time for the process to come through," said the 15-year-old.
"Now that I know it's like 100 per cent, it feels good."
Parkinson is a running back and safety with Châteauguay's city team, the Raiders, but he hopes playing for his high school will open a few doors.
Parkinson's brother will be playing football for Mount Allison University in the fall and the Secondary 3 student wants to follow in his footsteps.
Howard S. Billings's gym teacher Sophie Caisse will be helping Pelland with the off-field organization. She's excited to serve as the team's manager.
"Football is the best team sport ever. You have the little kid that has this place, you have the agile kid that has the space, the strong kid, the tall kid, — it's just a unity of all abilities that create these amazing teams," she said.
"So I'm looking forward for all these people in this school to find their spot to make this school, this team, succeed. It's going to be amazing," said Caisse, who's looking forward to the buzz of Friday night games in the fall.
Pelland says the players are going to be part of something special.
"They are going to build this so in 15, 20 years when they come back they'll say ''yeah, this is the fruits of my labour."