Amidst what has been a nightmare of a high school sports season in B.C., a football Field of Dreams with the figurative spirit to go the distance, looks to have finally come to fruition at its East Vancouver campus.
Notre Dame Regional Secondary, home to a Jugglers’ senior varsity football program which is the most decorated of its kind provincial history, is hopeful that its first-ever on-campus football field will be complete by sometime in April and seat some 730 fans for football and soccer games this coming fall.
To label the birth of Juggler Field as simply a journey would be a gross understatement because even before Notre Dame football won its first of a record 14 top-tiered Subway Bowl titles in 1968, the grassroots vision at the school was to someday plays games on its own field.
“It’s been a long process,” chuckles George Oswald, the Jugglers’ Class of 1964 grad, and current senior assistant who has in some form coached at the school since his graduation almost 57 years ago, including winning 10 championships as head coach of the senior varsity.
“The first idea of a field came back in the 1960s,” he continued of a Jugglers program which has achieved all of its success despite playing its games off campus, including most notably, at old Empire Stadium, and most recently, the Burnaby Lakes Sports Complex.
Yet the field’s figurative run to daylight has been filled with obstacles, the likes of which Oswald’s best-ever offences would have had trouble navigating.
A HISTORY OF DREAMS
“There was a works yard on the corner of Venables and Kaslo, and we had the first right to buy that land if the city ever decided to sell… but they never did,” said Oswald of a neighbouring parcel of land which back in the 1960s remained a beacon for Notre Dame’s plans of campus expansion.
Architectural drawings were even made at the time which included a full 100-yard field.
“But we could never get the land and what the city eventually did was they tore down the works yard and they built a firehall,” continued Oswald of Vancouver Firehall No. 14 which opened in 1979.
In 2004, the school began to formulate plans for a massive reconstruction of its school buildings, one which began in 2008 and finished in 2015.
The plans at that time included, Oswald says, a smaller-than-regulation 70-yard football field. Yet when it was ultimately determined that the physical location of the new school would be built on a different part of its property, the figurative goalposts had changed enough that Oswald could see a 100-yard field fitting within the school’s cozy confines.
He and his former Jugglers teammate Norm Grdina paced off the dimensions back in 2008, then in 2011, Oswald used the proper measuring instruments to make sure things weren’t just in the ballpark.
There have been, however, plenty of challenges throughout, running the gamut from financing to city ordinances to concerned neighbours who originally thought that the school was putting in the new field to try and make money.
In the end, however, it’s clear that determined problem solving by all involved at the school and in the community is what has made crossing the impending finish line so uniquely anticipatory.
“There were several neighbours that were very upset about all of this because the rumours that got out were that it was going to be a 20,000-seat stadium,” deadpans Notre Dame head coach Denis Kelly. “Everything got blown out of proportion so they had to get a committee together to meet with them and keep everyone informed.”
AFTER 2020’S LOST SEASON, A RE-BIRTH FOR JUGGLERS
At present, the artificial turf which will cover Juggler Field is sitting in an Abbotsford storage facility after a trip north from Georgia.
The installation, according to both Oswald and Kelly, is awaiting warmer weather.
“They are just finishing the bleachers now,” says Oswald, who adds that only a final topping of gravel and padding is needed before the turf can be installed, ideally over a a span of seven-to-10 days of good weather.
Kelly admits the cancelled 2020 season was extremely tough, and while his heart bleeds for a senior group which was unable to compete, he is hopeful that a new field and a new season will be able to begin with spring training sessions in May.
“I am just hoping that the field will be done, so that we can do our spring ball, and then be ready to play in the fall,” says Kelly, who is leaning towards playing games on Friday afternoons on campus, since permission for lights was not granted by the city.
Oswald said that the new game clock/scoreboard at Juggler Field may include video replay capability. He added that plans are also afoot to honour all of the school’s title-winning football and soccer teams on an outdoor Wall of Champions.
“I’ll be 75 this year, and this is one of the reasons I am still doing it,” Oswald says with pride of being able coach alongside Kelly in actual games on the campus he first set foot on six decades ago. “We’ve done it right, and it’ll be the best high school facility in the province.”
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