SURREY — The Sullivan Heights Stars may have been in a state of total elation Saturday afternoon, yet even though it was a sporting rite of passage they as a group had never been able to experience before, they carried it off it the grandest of fashion.
After the program’s first-ever varsity victory — 40-0 over crosstown rival Frank Hurt — they found Gord Randall and gave their head coach a Gatorade shower.
“I never would have envisioned it would be this long of a road when we started,” said Randall, whose team had gone 0-21 since he launched it in the fall of 2018. “But it feels incredibly rewarding seeing where we are now compared to where we started.”
Bryzen Tamani rushed for four touchdowns in the victory, including one from 61 yards out in the first quarter, while Josh Boyd and Titus Borbe also found the end zone.
For Randall, who played along the offensive line in university at both Queen’s and UBC, and who spent time as an assistant with the New Westminster Hyacks, it was especially rewarding to celebrate the win with his players both past and present, because so many of his former ones have continued to remain close to the program after graduation.
“One of the best feelings I have is seeing how many alumni are engaged at this point,” confirmed Randall.
“We’ve played all of two seasons, lost every game, and yet I have three alumni helping coach, and at least 10 more who were either present today or have reached out to me on social media. It tells me that the message is coming through – what we’re doing has value.
“Obviously the pandemic has been tough for just about everyone, and I can’t give enough gratitude and credit to the kids who remained dedicated through the pandemic… Grinding through those months of no pads, no contact, just technique, etc.”
Randall credited the Frank Hurt coaching staff for working through some tough logistic to make the rivalry game a reality.
“My hat goes off to Coach Lobensohn at Frank Hurt, who dealt with a lot just to get the game played this week after a venue change was forced upon him by our school district on Tuesday,” said Randall. “He’s doing a great thing continuing to get kids playing the sport over there, and I wish him and his staff the best as I hope we can continue this crosstown rivalry for years to come.”
Of course, keeping his own players believing through such a long spell of losing was tough.
The dividends, however, were not hard to find on Saturday.
“It takes rare teenagers to buy-in long term, put up with this level of adversity, and still keep coming back, and I love each and every one of the kids who have bought in to what I’m seeing and had faith,” said Randall.
“The reason I do this is introducing new families to the game, and I feel immense pride seeing the kids who are involved in our program – we’ve still got 75 per cent of the kids in our program who experienced organized football for the very first time with us. When I think about that, I well up, because that’s my ‘why.’”
The Nanaimo District Islanders, however, could put this brief win streak to an end in one week’s time if the Stars aren’t at their very best.
Randall knows that, yet he knows it’s important for all to savour the moment.
“I don’t want to overstate one single win, but at a school that doesn’t have a lengthy resume of athletic excellence, it means a lot,” he said.
Finally, the head coach doesn’t dodge the fact that the losing took its toll on him in a very personal way.
“The toughest part of the wait for me has been my own ego, if I’m being truthful.” he explained. “You tackle these projects because you believe in yourself, and when you’re repeatedly getting outclassed it makes you wonder why you took that leap.
“With regards to the players, the hardest part is keeping everything in perspective for them – holding them accountable for the high standard it takes to be successful in this sport, while also reminding them that every effort they give is worth something, and moves us in the right direction.”
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