Junior Spartans jump in to fill a void
by Randy Pascal
Just over a month ago, the notion of summer youth football for high-school aged gridiron talent in Sudbury seemed unlikely in 2019, with the decision by
the Sudbury Gladiators to take a leave of absence from the OFC (Ontario Football Conference) due to a lack of registrations at both the varsity
and junior varsity level.
Last Thursday, that all changed.
Sudbury Wolves Sports and Entertainment, in partnership with the Sudbury Spartans, announced the launch of the Sudbury Junior Spartans
initiative, with the group fielding a JV team this summer and looking to build upon that in 2020.
"This is not a new model," insisted Jr Spartans General Manager Gord Goddard, a very familiar face with adult summer football in Sudbury. "The
North Bay Bulldogs are doing it, Niagara Spears are doing it, Ottawa Sooners are doing it."
"We're just following other people's footsteps." As with the above-noted organizations, the Jr Spartans will play within the Ontario Provincial
Football League (OPFL), a four down venture that also tiers teams into two separate brackets.
Still, there is no denying that this move comes much later in the winter than would be ideal, the Spartans and company really not moving forward until
it was clear that the Gladiators would not be operating this summer.
All of which beckons the question as to why a merging of the two parties could not have occurred much earlier in the off-season, given the acknowledged
resources that SWSE would be able to bring to the table as a partner.
"The Gladiators have reached out to us twice in the past five years about working together," suggested Goddard. "When Marc Pilon was president, he
decided they would keep running on their own and then again this past November, one of their executive members approached me and asked me about it."
With nothing moving forward on that front, and the Gladiators on hiatus for a year, the decision was made to try and fill a void. "I think our initial
response was to try and do something in 2020, but the demand was there to try and get something in place for 2019," said Goddard.
"So we agreed to look at one team, one program this year, and then we can look at expanding next year. We thought it was manageable with just one, given
the tight timelines." Of course, with the Gladiators looking at less than 30 committed players at the JV level, the Jr Spartans will have their work cut
out for them looking to attract a roster of 40 or so that would make their inaugural summer much more comfortable.
"We had to bring in the best coach we could find, and when you ask anybody, the best coach we could find was Reg Bonin," said Goddard. "He's
taken a small market team and won two city championships, he's got an amazing personality and coaching philosophy."
"He's exactly what we wanted to bring back into the organization."
It's not as though the former Spartans' quarterback and current high-school teacher at Lively District Secondary School is unfamiliar with this
age grouping and summer football. Beyond his fall seasons with the Hawks, Bonin has been regularly involved on the sidelines with the Gladiators.
So where, exactly, does the well-respected coach see this new option as possessing the recipe for success where previous incarnations have found
on-going challenges (albeit mixed in with a handful of very memorable seasons).
"First off, there is the idea that football is all under one umbrella and that we all have something to work towards, an end goal of where we want the
kids to go," said Bonin. Then, there are the learnings that he has experienced via years of involvement with the teenage football market-place.
"You have to make practices something that is worth going to," he said. "I know, from first-hand experience, that if you're not getting anything out of
practice, it's hard to be motivated. If we can, as a coaching group, run our practices so that the kids can see that they are getting better, in my mind,
they will see it as meaningful."
Bonin also prefers the four down game, especially at the junior varsity classification, most notably in our particular part of the province. "For this
age level, it's good for player development," he said. "We're not like those huge southern Ontario markets where a lot of kids are playing football from a
very young age."
"For us, three down football is really hard because we're usually behind the eight ball when it comes to throwing game development. This will give us a
chance to crawl before we run."
The team also took time at the media reception to introduce at least one player who has signed on the dotted line, with St Charles College Cardinals
quarterback Devon Zloty reprising the role that he played with the 2018 Jr Gladiators.
"It's under the Spartans, which has a lot of good management, a lot of good coaching, and it's also cheaper than the Glads, which is obviously a good
thing," noted the 16 year old grade 10 student of the lure of this new venture.
"What I have been trying to tell my buddies is that this is kind of a new system," added Zloty. "Some of the kids that are at my school are not
interested, because they don't have that competitive mindset, but the ones that are, they're looking for a good team with good coaches."
In that sense, few players will have the opportunity to potentially enjoy more growth than the young signal caller. "I'm looking forward to getting some
one on one coaching from another quarterback who has played with the Spartans, played at a competitive level, to improve myself learning from him," said
"I'm looking to develop my mental game. At quarterback, you can have a good arm and throw well, but if you can't read a field, then that's a problem."
Gord Goddard is simply thankful that he and his team can focus their efforts in that direction.
"This is about what Scott Lund and Blaine Smith can bring to the table as part of Sudbury Wolves Sport and Entertainment," said Goddard.
"They bring an infrastructure that allows us to not worry about marketing, to not worry about fundraising, and to be able to concentrate on what we do
best, which is football, putting good football teams on the field."
In terms of final pragmatics, the Jr Spartans hosted registrations at Sudbury Arena this past Saturday, and will do so again on April 13th, from noon
until 3:00 p.m. The 2019 season is expected to start on Victoria Day weekend, running through until early August.
Joining Bonin on the coaching staff are Jordan Desilets, Dan Yoisten, Sandy Bissett and Brett McKnight.