High school football coaches retire having made their mark | Football | CBC Sports

CFLHigh school football coaches retire having made their mark

Posted: Monday, August 13, 2012 | 12:37 AM

Back to accessibility links
Several years ago, high school math teacher Brian Walsh (top right) was talked into moving to a small Alberta town called Bonnyville, where he put together a football team with players from area schools that never won a championship in the Wheatland Football League, finishing mostly in the middle of pack. But they found out a lot about themselves and gave their former coach a lifetime of memories. (Courtesy Bonnyville Voyageurs) Several years ago, high school math teacher Brian Walsh (top right) was talked into moving to a small Alberta town called Bonnyville, where he put together a football team with players from area schools that never won a championship in the Wheatland Football League, finishing mostly in the middle of pack. But they found out a lot about themselves and gave their former coach a lifetime of memories. (Courtesy Bonnyville Voyageurs)

Supporting Story Content

End of Supporting Story Content

Back to accessibility links

Beginning of Story Content

Canadian high school football coaches Brian Walsh and Paul Forbes have never met. Never spoken. Never heard of each other. But as they both retire from the sidelines they seem to have had the same experiences in very different situations.

It's a moment from one game in one man's 27-year high school football coaching career, but it still chokes Brian Walsh up.

His Bonnyville Voyageurs, over near Cold Lake in Alberta, were playing a consolation playoff game against a tough opponent, and because the rule on the club had always been that everyone plays at least a little bit, Walsh had one of his most athletically challenged youngsters up against an excellent receiver.

Burned for a touchdown.

Walsh tells this story over the phone with a lump in his throat, and it catches. There's a long pause.

"The kid comes back to the sidelines, and we're talking ..." Another pause. "I tell him it doesn't matter what happened, it matters what you do next. So we end up winning, but the kid is really feeling shabby."

Over the next nine months, the young player, who happened to be an academic star, put his brain to work learning how to play defensive back properly. He came back the next fall and was one of Bonnyville's shut-down guys, purely through hustle and determination.

It's one of the coach's favourite stories in a memory bank chock full of them.

 Move 3,200 kilometres south east to a warm recent night at St. Michael's College School in Toronto, where one of Paul Forbes's assistants is telling a story about the just-retired head coach - one of the country's most successful over his 36 years.

Seems there was a wide receiver of not much talent, but super work ethic, who came out to practice every day, no matter the weather, even though he was never going to play.

Comes a time, the Kerry Blues are up miles, and Forbes sends the receiver in. Quarterback fades back, tosses it out there, and the young man drops his one chance.

Great memories

Forbes tells the pivot to throw it to the young man again. It's a catch. For two yards.

Two yards that young man will likely remember for the rest of his life.

Walsh and Forbes have never met. Never spoken. Never heard of each other. But as they both retire from the sidelines they seem to have had the same experiences in very different situations.

Born in Toronto, raised in Montreal and having done university at the University of Prince Edward Island, Walsh found himself moving across the country to the small Notre Dame High School in Bonnyville, north of Lloydminster in east-central Alberta.

His mother talked him into it.

There was no football. No field or goalposts. No scoreboard. No stands. But there was a determined young math teacher.

Without enough students, Walsh put together a sort of high school team by committee, with players from Bonnyville Centralized, Glendon High School, Kehewin High School and, 30 minutes away, Assumption High School, in Cold Lake.

Next, there was money. Each player had to pay $150 towards his own equipment and uniforms, with the rest raised through casinos, bingos and donations and that's where the deal came that if you did that, you would see the field.

In short, nothing that can't be solved.

Forbes, born in Toronto, played football at York University and then the University of Toronto before taking a job to help rebuild the football program plus teach phys-ed and geography at St. Mike's, an independent Catholic high school.

No field to practice

At first, he also didn't have a field because a subway was being built under it. So the Kerry Blues practised on a grassy, open spot down in the nearby valley. Of course, they then went to play their home games at the old CNE Stadium, home of the Toronto Argonauts.

Went 0-6.

But they had the money for equipment, buses, uniforms, whatever was needed. And the Kerry Blues responded, ultimately following Forbes to regular winning seasons, a ton of league championships, and seven Metro Bowl titles, emblematic of supremacy among all the schools in the Toronto region.

Forbes and his staff turned out a number of pro players, but it's all the 900 or so boys Forbes has had (no one gets cut unless they cut themselves) who the coach thinks about now.

"I think the sport of football itself is a good instrument for finding out about yourself, first of all, through your teamwork, hard work, through all kinds of elements through the season," says Forbes, quietly, staring contemplatively at the ground.

"You have to be tough to stay with it and some guys don't get to play a lot, but they want to be part of that team and do all the discipline and the hard work that goes with it."

In the teen years, he believes, "it's good to feel recognized, to be part of something - it gives them self-confidence."

The Bonnyville Voyageurs, on the other hand, never won a championship in the Wheatland Football League, finishing mostly in the middle of pack, year after year. Second once. Provincial silver medalists once.

Walsh knows what he'll miss most.

"I'll miss the scheming, and being with the coaches, but what really gets me is on Monday, when the kids suit up on Monday that is such a rush to see them come back out," he says. "And we've taken some horrible lickings. But here they come ... one, two three ... four ... almost the entire team."

Vent

And you teach them. And they respond. And sometimes things go awry and, if you're a young and wound up coach, you vent.

Funny. That's the thing both said on a query of any regrets.

"Yeah ... yeah," says Forbes, lost a bit in thought. "I wish I hadn't lost my temper on some kids sometimes, you know? I feel bad about that. I don't do it much anymore.

"For the team in general, I don't mind doing it, but there are a couple of kids I lit into and I shouldn't have."

Walsh knows exactly what he'd say to a young coach looking for advice. He learned himself by doing.

"When you really want to tell somebody [off], don't. Don't react. Let it sit for a while. Try and be like a Kavis Reed or a Scott Milanovich (in the CFL) where you can see there's a reaction to a play but they don't go right over because you might not use the right words.

"I would never mean to humiliate anybody, but sometimes you don't even know. If you can learn to put a filter on, try and phrase everything in the positive--it's so important."

He calls all that emotion on the sidelines "poorly spent."

They are leaving now. Not sure to what, but don't be surprised if football pops back in their lives again.

Walsh is handing off to Larry Godziuk, who teaches at Bonnyville Centralized and has been with the Voyageurs for almost as long as their founder.

Forbes is passing to Frank Trentadue, a former player long ago, now an experienced assistant with the Kerry Blues.

He doesn't have to give Frank any advice. But like Walsh, if there was a youngster looking for help, he'd know what to say.

"Just be yourself," he says. "Let the players know you care. And that you are giving your best effort and they will pick up on that."

Last minute second thoughts?

"It's time for me to step aside," Forbes says, as he gets up and heads back into his retirement party.

End of Story Content

Back to accessibility links

Story Social Media

End of Story Social Media

Comments are closed.