Touch football has been a popular summertime sport in St. John’s for over 30 years, the local Coors Light league burgeoning to 11 teams last season (not to mention five women’s squads). But if Adam Ledrew has his way, athletes in this province will be playing the real thing very soon.
For a sport which has no roots in Newfoundland, professional football’s popularity is quite significant in this end of the country where the NFL and, to a lesser degree, the Canadian Football League remains very much on the sports fan’s radar.
But in terms of playing the sport, football has been extinct on the local landscape, save for a brief attempt to introduce the game to their part of the country way back in the 1970s.
So along comes Ledrew, looking to change that.
Ledrew is president of the newly-minted Football Newfoundland and Labrador, an organization hoping to have athletes on the gridiron soon.
“I know there are a lot of kids out there who want to play,” Ledrew said. “To be honest, I’m amazed it’s not here already.”
Ledrew and his group are not a fly-by-night outfit. What started out in February as a simple Internet post looking for volunteers — “I think within the first hour I had about a half-dozen replies” — has resulted in a core of a dozen executive members.
All, Ledrew said, are perfectly suited to their new roles.
Brian Hughes, for example, is the vice-president technical. The former principal at St. Bon’s has over 30 years of experience as a minor and high school football coach and referee. Mark Didham, a chartered accountant, is the vice-president finance and is a former treasurer of Judo Newfoundland. And Ashley Hiscock, a certified athletic therapist and kinesiologist, is the director of athlete safety. Hiscock worked with a football team during her internship.
But perhaps the biggest — figuratively and literally — addition to the group is Shawn Gifford, who is working in a consulting role. The Ottawa native played six years as an offensive lineman in the CFL with Montreal, Saskatchewan, Toronto and Winnipeg. He arrived in Newfoundland with his fiance, and is currently teaching in the capital city.
No one knows better than this group getting a new sport up and running will take time. Their first step is working with Sport Newfoundland and Labrador with hopes of getting Provincial Sports Organization (PSO) status, which they hope to achieve in November.
Football NL has been in regular contact with Football Canada, and getting PSO status will open plenty of doors.
“The big thing is it will allow us to get funding,” said Ledrew, a 23-year-old native of C.B.S., a former Canada Winter Games table tennis player and coach. “Football Canada will be in a position to do much more for us, such as conducting coach clinics. And they will be able to provide us with 60 to 70 sets of youth equipment, which is huge.
“Football Canada has indicated it tried to bring the game here before, but it never really took off.”
Newfoundland and the Territories, Ledrew said, are the only areas of the country in which the game is not played.
“The game is quite big in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, not so much in P.E.I., although it is played there. And, of course, it’s very big in Ontario and Quebec. But once you get past Ontario, it’s absolutely huge out west.
“Football Canada says it will welcome us with open arms.”
Although they hope to open the game up to everyone and anyone who wants to play, Ledrew and his group will be initially targeting the younger athletes, from under-18 to under-10.
“The key is getting the young athletes,” he said. “It ensures you have a future.”
For now, Ledrew and the group are focused on putting together an under-18 team which will travel to Truro, N.S. and Moncton, N.B. around the Labour Day weekend for three games.
The group has been staging twice-a-week practices and Tuesday night attracted 20 athletes between the ages of 16 and 20, “enough for two teams in the metro area.
“We’ll only play seven aside football for now, but Football Canada says that’s a good place to start.”
The basics of football — namely passing, receiving, running and defence — are being covered, Ledrew said.
“Once we put pads on the kids, we’ll be getting more in depth,” he said.
Without question, getting football off the ground in Newfoundland won’t be easy. There is a cost involved, not to mention available fields.
If and when Football NL gets PSO status and the national organization provides gear, the helmets, shoulder pads and pants with the necessary hip, upper thigh, knee and tailbone pads will be provided for the younger players. However, any additional equipment purchases will have to be covered off through player registration, sponsorship and fundraising ventures.
As for a venue, Ledrew hopes to use Bro. Eagan Field in St. John’s, where the local touch football circuit operates.
“We’ll be leaning on those guys for coaches and officials, too,” Ledrew said. “Sport Newfoundland and Labrador is trying to amalgamate us with them. And I’m working with the city (to secure field time).
“It’s all a process, and we’re taking things step by step. But we’re all very dedicated to making it work.”
Anyone interested in becoming involved with Football Newfoundland and Labrador, or playing should contact Ledrew at firstname.lastname@example.org