(Note to readers — since it’s original publication we have added to this story)
LANGLEY — When the thermometres dip, and the calendars hit November, there has been a singular destination for a generation-plus of high school football players in this province: B.C. Place Stadium for the Subway Bowl playoffs.
Yet while B.C. high school football has continued to celebrate its return to play this season following 2020’s COVID-cancelled campaign, it seems a near certainty that its two final showcase weekends will not be played under the dome due to scheduling conflicts at the downtown stadium.
Travis Bell, who chairs B.C. School Sports’ football sports advisory committee, addressed the news with Varsity Letters on Wednesday morning that B.C. Place would be unable to accommodate its standing request to host this season’s Subway Bowl semifinal (Nov. 27) and championship final (Dec. 4) dates under the dome.
“We just found out a couple of weeks ago that they were unable to accommodate us,” said Bell of an e-mail dated Oct. 6 in which B.C. Place officials explained that the facility was unavailable to accommodate either the Nov. 27 Subway Bowl semifinal date, nor the Dec. 4 Subway Bowl championship finals date at its facility due to scheduling conflicts.
“As a student-athlete, I played at B.C. Place and it was one of my fondest experiences, so to not be able to provide that experience to our student-athletes this year,” said Bell, “especially after not having the opportunity last year, makes it extremely tough.”
In a further email dated Oct. 14, B.C. Place officials explained that the conflicts related to an as-yet unannounced event scheduled for the facility on the first date, as well as the start of a major infrastructure project which would impact the second date.
It is now know that the infrastructure project relates to the installation of a new turf field.
“We are of course disappointed we won’t be able to provide the incredible experience B.C. Place delivers for our student-athletes this year,” Jordan Abney, executive director of B.C. School Sports, told Varsity Letters late Wednesday afternoon.
“It is an event that each student-athlete strives to be a part of and the chance to play under the bright lights creates life-long memories,” continued Abney. “High school football has a cherished 30-plus-year history with B.C. Place, and we look forward to working with PavCo to ensure BCSS football returns to B.C. Place in 2022.”
B.C. Place officials responded with the following statement late Wednesday afternoon to Varsity Letters:
“BC Place has been a proud and strong supporter of BC High School Football for many years.
Stadium management has been working closely with the team at BC School Sports for several months to determine the possibility of hosting the 2021 Championship series at BC Place.
With the recent resumption of major events and activities in B.C., demand for available event dates at the stadium has been exceptionally strong and complex to manage.
Additionally, BC Place is scheduled to undertake a critical turf replacement project in the months of December and January.
Despite our very best efforts and numerous discussions to determine suitable dates to host BC High School Football at BC Place in 2021, we were not able to reach a mutually acceptable schedule.
Unfortunately, BC High School has now decided to move ahead with an alternate venue for this year.
We very much look forward to working with BC School Sports and the BC High School Sports community with a goal to host the Championships again in 2022.”
Back in 2018, as yet another B.C. high school football season prepared, en masse, to move its Subway Bowl championships into the dome for its semifinal and championship rounds, I wrote a piece asking coaches what it meant for their programs to get the opportunity to play within its confines.
The response was heartfelt to say the least, including this one from Holy Cross Crusaders’ head coach Conrad Deugau.
“I was very fortunate to be in there many times during the mid-to-late 1990’s as a player for Notre Dame. The expectation from the coaches at ND was to ‘win your last game.’ We all knew that meant to win the championship. It was a welcome pressure. Being in the dome meant that we were that much closer to our goal and it was a special feeling to be there walking through the old air lock and knowing what was to come. I can only liken it to the gladiators of ancient Rome entering the Colosseum. From the bowels of the stadium to the lights of the arena, the energy is indescribable. During those years at ND, our home field was Livingstone Park and B.C. Place was always in the backdrop. Many of us on a routine basis would look and point at the dome as a way of refocusing ourselves on where we expected to be. It was our backdrop that loomed in the horizon.”
Said Nanaimo-John Barsby head coach Rob Stevenson in that same article: “What is neat is that when you get under that roof, you know you have earned your place inside.”
That that opportunity has unfortunately been lost to the B.C. high school graduating Class of 2022.
Getting a chance to play under that dome is so meaningful to so many kids that the BCSSFA, in past years, has worked 12 months out of every year to insure that it can step up to the plate and meet the cost of the bill.
Ask Bell about that, and his response comes straight from the heart.
“The association has always worked hard because we value our sponsors in the community,” he began. “And through those relationships, and through those sponsorships we’ve been able to translate that into an incredible experience for our student-athletes at B.C. Place Stadium.
“It’s become a tradition for our kids to be able to play there and it is incredibly disappointing that despite all of that, we are still not going to be able to allow the kids, many in the 2022 graduating class who already missed a year because of COVID, to miss out on their chance at B.C. Place again.”
Three more weekends of regular season games remaining beginning this Friday, followed by the Subway Bowl wildcard and quarterfinal rounds make up the timeline which Bell and Co. now have to finalize a site for the championships.
Although no one is commenting on where the event would wind up barring an 11th-hour breakthrough with B.C. Place, it should not come as a surprise to anyone that SFU Stadium at Terry Fox Field, Langley’s McLeod Stadium and UBC’s Thunderbird Stadium are all potential sites.
All have hosted B.C. high school football games in the past, and while SFU’s stadium just opened in September, the other two facilities have also hosted Subway Bowl championships.
Regardless of what happens this season, Bell says B.C. high school football looks forward to a B.C. Place Stadium return return in 2022.
“There is always a little hope,” Bell said. “But if there is a way to make it work (for this season) and if they are willing to be flexible with us based on them valuing amateur sports and the history of what we’ve done there, then we would love for that to happen.”
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