Heritage Christian Academy launches football program in style

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For young football players, it was like a dream come true.

The Heritage Christian Academy Hawks, a team playing their first season of a six-man football league, got to play their home opener Friday on the storied turf of McMahon Stadium, home to the Canadian Football League-leading Calgary Stampeders.

It was a thrill for the HCA students and for their competition, also known as the Hawks from J.C. Charyk School in Hanna.

“They were so excited,” says HCA Hawks head coach and athletic director Steve Ward, explaining the team’s home field for this year would normally be the Shouldice Athletic Park in Calgary’s northwest. A call from the city’s Recreation Department notified the school that there’d been a double booking of the field but the game could be accommodated at McMahon.

“We said, ‘Sure, that would be fine,’ ” Ward says, with a laugh.

“We told the kids (about McMahon) in the third or fourth tryout, and they got all amped out.”

Friday’s match up was the culmination of nearly three years of planning that reflects the school’s desire to offer a diversity of programs to appeal to a wide range of students

Ward, who played high school football, is clearly a fan of the gridiron game, but he’s not alone. HCA Principal Ryan Brennan, a CFL Roughriders fan was familiar with the six-man game from his time in Saskatchewan; the team’s assistant coaches -- Vice-Principal Dan Magnan, past chair of the Heritage Christian Education Society Dan Brunning, and HCA teacher Gonzalo Segovia -- have all played and enjoyed the game. Segovia played professionally in the CFL and in Europe.

Program was nearly three years in the making

The program planning began with a football clinic three years ago for students in Grades 9-11. Last year, a spring football clinic was held for students in Grades 8-11, attracting 28 interested players. This year, 14 students made the squad, playing a six-man game that follows CFL rules, played on a 40-yard-wide field. A standard CFL field is 65 yards wide.

Tuesday, the football program crossed another milestone as work began on resurfacing a field on campus, just to the south of the school. By next fall, home football games for Heritage will really be at home. The field will also be suitable for soccer and track and field events. The levelling and resurfacing project represents about a $285,000 investment by the society, which supports elements of the school not funded by the province.

Coach Ward says the six-man game requires a high level of teamwork, and players are challenging and holding each other accountable on the field.

“What’s really neat is it’s a unified, shared experience,” Ward says. “We’re seeing kids who don’t necessarily hangout in the same social circles and they’re having a deeper bond than I’ve seen in other sports,” says Ward.

Football a character builder

For the boys, football is a way to channel physical aggression positively “in a gentlemanly way.”

“First and foremost, we’re wanting to teach character,” Ward says.

The school now offers a wide variety of sports in various leagues, from volleyball, basketball and cross-country, to track and field, floor hockey, and soon, curling.

While the school’s reputation revolves around a highly successful music program, the athletic program is growing and appealing to many of the same students who sing in choir or perform in band.

“Two of our captains are also in the music program,” Ward says. “We can make it work for their schedules.”

The football team started working out Aug. 25th and will have a game a week through the first weekend of November. Teams in Three Hills, Hanna and Brooks share the same Alberta Schools Athletic Association conference as the HCA Hawks.

Tuesday afternoon, the squad was on the road to Brooks for a game.

NOTE, Sept. 24, 2014: The original version of this story gave an incorrect amount for the cost of a new field.