Stallions celebrating 25th season
SUBMITTED Current and former Huronia Stallions coaches are pictured during the 2016 Huronia Stallions annual coaches Christmas party.
The Huronia Stallions football organization is preparing for its 25th season.
The program will hold a celebration this summer, which former players, coaches and their families will be encouraged to attend to mark the quarter-century milestone.
At the Stallions' first practice in 1993, a coach had to run to Canadian Tire because nobody had remembered to bring footballs. Since this inauspicious beginning, the Huronia Stallions have grown from a varsity team to a community institution that offers programs for youth ages seven to 18.
The team has developmental house-league teams in Barrie and Orillia, with the rep travel teams playing and practising at the Barrie Sports Complex in Midhurst. The emphasis in the house league is on skill development and a fun atmosphere where games are played without scores being kept and players are encouraged to play a variety of positions.
I first decided to play for the Stallions in 1996. I was a backup linebacker the previous fall with my high-school program and wanted the opportunity to play in the summer with the hope of improving my skills and abilities on the field. I got so much more from the experience. Not only did I become a better player, but I joined a family.
It was an amazing experience having teammates from all over the area, who I later competed against in the fall. The experience as a player and later as a coach also instilled the intangibles I was able to draw on to have success away from the field.
Over the years, I have seen many former Stallions go on to have success in their lives' pursuits. For many alumni, being a Stallion was a transformative experience where character was built and forged in an atmosphere that emphasized teamwork, respect, empathy, hard work, discipline and commitment. Many former Stallions move on to university studies and play football at the next level. Of these, six Stallions quarterbacks have moved on to play the position at the university level.
Kyle Graves, Cameron Thorn and Jake Piotrowski are three former Stallions who had stellar university football careers and are now established CFL veterans. Josh Lambert, a long-time Stallions coach and adviser, is now a video coach with the Saskatchewan Roughriders after many years as a university football coach.
Stallions have also become successful business owners, tradespeople, teachers, engineers, police officers, firefighters and professionals including doctors and academics. One noteworthy example is Stallions alumnus Steven Winkelman, who just arrived in South Africa as an HIV outreach volunteer with the Peace Corps.
The Stallions take pride in being active in community organization and outreach. The program partnered with the Toronto Argonauts' Tackle Hunger program and launched an annual food drive.
Players are also encouraged to volunteer their time in the community. The team, in conjunction with the Clarke family, has established the Ryan Clarke Memorial Scholarship. This award goes to a graduating player who is pursuing Ryan's dream of playing university football. This year's recipient is linebacker Datun Atekepe, who enrolled at the University of Guelph and is a member of the varsity football team.
The team really is a family, with a bond that stretches more than a quarter of a century. Many alumni even have children playing in the system.
A great testament to the loyalty players have for the program is the coaching staff is made up almost entirely of former players. One of the exceptions is offensive line coach Jeff Hale. Hale is a former CIS All-Canadian and Vanier Cup champion. He is also the best coach I have ever worked with and will be entering his 16th season with the Stallions organization.
The Stallions coaching staff has several former and current university football players. As such, the team's offensive and defensive systems are constantly adapted to reflect the most current trends at the university and professional levels.
The junior varsity and varsity teams also hold joint practices so young players are able to play in the same system for five years and learn the habits and work ethic of the veterans.
The Stallions will hold two upcoming registration sessions. The program does not cut players, and it encourages any youth, regardless of skill level or experience, to join.
Feb. 18 - Rotary Place (West Orillia Sports Complex), 10 to 4 p.m.
March 4 - East Bayfield Recreation Complex, Barrie, 10 to 4 p.m.
Players can also register at huroniastallions.on.ca.
Eligibility for each team is based on birth years: house league (2003-07), travel teams - bantam (2003-04), junior varsity (2001-02), varsity (1998-2000).