High school football kicks off
Sir Winston Churchill Reid Wiley (5) evades a tackle by Cougars Michael Thornton (3) in this file photo from last year. — Standard photo
Falcons will be grounded, Blue Devils exorcised, and Hornets and Spartans clustered shoulder-to-shoulder in the same huddle when the high school football season kicks off next week in Niagara.
In all there will be two senior, two junior and one varsity division competing under the umbrellas of two separate conferences: Niagara Catholic Athletic Association (NCAA), Niagara Regional High School Athletic Association (NRHSAA).
Largest division is NCAA Senior. Making up the eight-team division are three St. Catharines squads, Denis Morris Reds, Holy Cross Raiders, St. Francis Phoenix; two from Niagara Falls, Saint Michael Mustangs, Saint Paul Patriots; and one each from Grimsby, Blessed Trinity Thunder; Port Colborne, Lakeshore Catholic Gators; and Welland, Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
NRHSAA Tier 1 has six teams – A.N. Myer Marauders, Greater Fort Erie Gryphons, Sir Winston Churchill Bulldogs, Thorold Golden Eagles, Welland Centennial Cougars, Westlane-Stamford - with the public school board’s other senior division, NRHSAA Tier 2 taking the gridiron starting Thursday with four varsity programs – Eden Flyers, Governor Simcoe Redcoats, Grimsby Eagles, St. Catharines Saints – battling for regional bragging rights in the 12-per-side, three-down league.
Each conference is starting the season with five- and four-team junior divisions, respectively. Blessed Trinity, Denis Morris, Notre Dame, Saint Michael and Saint Paul make up the NCAA’s entry-level division, with Greater Fort Erie, Myer, Welland Centennial and Westlane-Stamford competing in the NRHSAA’s junior loop.
New to Tier 1, and to the athletic lineup overall, is Greater Fort Erie, the region’s newest high school and essentially a merger of the former Fort Erie Secondary School, which boasted the Falcons, and now-shuttered Ridgeway-Crystal Beach High School, where the Blue Devils won back-to-back Senior A football championships in 2015-16.
Also missing from the lineup following the closure of a high school due to low enrolment is South Lincoln. Last fall, the varsity Bears end into hibernation on a memorable note, with only a 19-7 loss to Thorold in the NRHSAA Division II championship spoiling a storybook ending.
Myer defeated Denis Morris 31-24 in senior premier for the Niagara championship before going on to defeat the Jacob Hespeler Hawks from Cambridge 50-7 in the Central Bowl.
The rout at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton was the third straight Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations championship for the Marauders, who ended the year 8-0 and outscored their opponents 335-50.
Myer entered the final against 10th-seeded Hespeler ranked second in Canada.
Churchill edged Welland Centennial 10-9 in last year’s NRHSAA Division I senior final last year.
Stamford and Westlane are combining their junior and senior football programs this year. Football convenor Sandy Wilkes said home games will be played at Westlane due to field issues at Stamford.