Football kids may lose beloved gridiron game

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Local football association appealing to community for help

INNISFAIL – Minor football in town could fold by the end of the month.

Officials with the Innisfail Minor Football Association (IMFA) have sent out an urgent plea to members and the community to let them know that unless more volunteers step up and the association receives more registrations for the 2018 season, the program could officially fold by March 28. The association has called for an emergency meeting on that date for members and the public to help make a decision on minor football’s future in Innisfail.

“We are in a critical stage right now,” said Talitha Watkinson, president of the IMFA.

Watkinson said the association has been “struggling” in recent years getting volunteers and new registrations, with the dire situation coming to a head at the association’s Annual General Meeting on Feb. 28. She said 15 members attended, with many taking on a number of positions that needed to be filled, including coaching, board volunteers and team managers. However, it was not nearly enough and now the association, created 11 year ago, is at the brink.

“Even if every single person that was there was able to step up and take multiple positions it is still not enough to run three teams,” said Watkinson, adding there are about 30 local families involved with the association. “That is a low number. That is too low for us to have three teams, but that is where we are at now.”

She said the AGM on Feb. 28 witnessed a unanimous board vote to table a decision to fold the association until March 28, when the special community meeting will be held at 7 p.m. at the Innisfail Aquatic Centre.

“We need volunteers and a minimum of six, but preferably up to 12 coaches and volunteers to run three teams. Currently we maybe have four coaches,” she added. The association has operated with three levels of minor football for the community – atom for players eight to 10 years of age, peewee for 10- and 11-year-olds and the bantam program for players aged 13 and 14.

In the meantime, the possibility of the association folding has parents deeply worried, as many feel minor football has had an enormously positive impact on their children.

Alexis Verhegge signed up her nine-year-old son Luka Ellis last season to play atom football. They had just moved to town from Edmonton. Luka had long been struggling with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), and then last September his father Justin passed away. But football was always there to provide relief, said Verhegge.

“We really started to notice a huge difference in his behaviour after we got him into football, experiencing the team atmosphere and having the physical exercises at practices and the game,” said the mom. “His behaviour changed. His aggression was gone. To me it means the absolute world to have this sport for him to play in.

“Football became something solid in his life that would not leave him and he got to expend his pent-up emotions playing the game and enjoying the team atmosphere,” she said, noting Luka began playing before his father’s death and continued after. “He made some of the best friends by playing football.”

And then there is Christine Hobbs, whose 12-year-old son Dominyk found refuge in the gridiron game after the sport was recommended by a counsellor.

“Football has brought us closer together. We can actually talk now rather than screaming and yelling,” said Hobbs, holding back tears. “Football has also been a drastic help to other families. I know there are many of them out there who could also use the support from this program.

For more volunteer and registration information for the March 28 emergency meeting contact Kim Thompson at 403-396-5976 or Jana Brazil at 403-598-9674. Watkinson can be contacted by emailing her at president@innisfailminorfootball.com

Christine Hobbs, mother of IMFA player

“Football has also been a drastic help to other families. I know there are many of them out there who could also use the support from this program.”

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Johnnie Bachusky

Johnnie Bachusky joined the Innisfail Province as editor in 2013. He covers Innisfail and Red Deer County news, police, crime and municipal politics. He is also a photographer and columnist.