It's a big, blue, day in the province where green is as good as gold.
At Mosaic Stadium, which will always be Taylor Field to the local football faithful, some of the Saskatchewan Roughriders are helping to put the provincial high-school champion Riffel Royals through their paces.
The Royals wear blue, white and red uniforms and have a stylish "RR" emblazoned on their helmets. Head coach John Bolen towers above their every move. He misses nothing -- not the crushing blocks the linemen make, not the bullet-like passes his quarterbacks deliver to streaking receivers.
"Much of this is about conduct," Bolen offered. "The two R's on our helmet mean something. They are for responsibility and respect and that's paramount."
Bolen is the only head football coach Michael A. Riffel High School has ever known in its 28 years of existence. He's helped the team win four provincial championship titles and guided it through more than 250 games in the land where football is king.
Bolen is a bit of a prairie legend in these parts.
"Guys respect him," said Jordan Sisco a wide receiver with the Roughriders and the only graduate of Riffel to make it to the CFL.
"I was in grade 10 and didn't expect to be on the field. He put me in at starting quarterback. He puts his trust in you and that means that you trust him."
Heady praise for the coach and that's what this stop on the Sports Day in Canada tour is all about. There are 1.8-million volunteer coaches in Canada -- the largest volunteer sector in the country.
The bottom line is there would be little meaningful sport if there were no coaches. And the only reward many of the coaches receive is to see their players become better citizens.
"We keep in touch with most of them," Bolen said. "It's glorious to see them as rookies and then grow into veterans. To see them achieve something is satisfying."
The leaves have already turned in Saskatchewan and fall is upon us. This is when football rages at every level in the breadbasket of the land. The Royals seem to sense it as they dart across the sacred turf of their football idols. To have the stars they look up to leading them through the drills is energizing.
Craig Butler, a defensive back on the Roughriders, is working on downfield coverage with the youngsters. He's a graduate of the University of Western Ontario in London and also grew up in a football-mad community.
For him, the game has become a living. But he knows that a good coach can make the sport rise above that stark reality at the developmental level.
"As you get older, it becomes a business and you get smart about it," Butler admitted. "But at this level, the coach is the reason you play. The coach is the one who provides the motivation because the coach, above all, makes it fun."
The Royals are clearly having fun under Bolen's guidance. He moves the lineman to and fro with a wave of his hand. When they go the wrong way and fall down exhausted and confused, he refrains from recrimination.
"It's a gorgeous autumn day and we've got time to get it right," Bolen's encouraging voice intoned.
The players are back on their feet and, at the whistle, dance to his every command.
"These players are looking to learn," Bolen said. "They want to get better and be part of a team. In the end. that's what we're about."
Too often these days, coaches have been in the news because of their failings. Notorious examples include an American collegiate football coach who abused the trust of young boys, then conspired to cover it up. There was the Canadian junior hockey coach who terrorized the players under his watch, physically and emotionally. Most recently, a speed skating coach bullied one of his athletes into sabotaging the equipment of a rival.
But these are the exceptions rather than the rule. In this country, there are literally hundreds of thousands of good coaches for every rotten apple.
The sad thing is they rarely get the credit they deserve for helping to guide our children towards a positive experience in sport. That's why, on a glorious day in the heartland of football, John Bolen strides across the field with his head held high.
He's earned the respect and devotion of his players as all good coaches are meant to do.
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