In an attempt to bring senior football back to Thunder Bay, the newly-formed Thunder Bay Storm is looking to attract players from Northwestern Ontario to suit up in the new Central Senior Football League this season.
The CSFL is looking for players who have graduated from NorWOSSA football and would be attending either university or college in the Lakehead this fall.
Three Winnipeg teams—the Rods, Mustangs, and St. Vital Bulldogs—have committed to play in the CSFL against the Storm this year, with the league looking to expand by another two teams for the 1999 season.
The league, which will be commissioned by CFL great Miles Gorrell, will begin its inaugural season Sept. 6.
In past years, Thunder Bay has had teams (Giants and Storm) competing in the Manitoba Junior Football League, which has since disbanded for a variety of reasons.
But with the demise of junior football in Winnipeg and Thunder Bay, combined with the fact junior football has now taken a national approach (with teams from several provinces playing in the same league), both cities opted to look into reviving their football programs on a more regional level.
Chris Morand, the media relations spokesperson for the Storm, said they’re looking for players with athletic ability and experience in both football and track programs.
He said they are willing to take “raw rookies” with talent to go with the players already signed, who have CIAU experience, adding several players on their roster have had previous stints with the University of Manitoba Bisons.
While costs have been a problem with many junior and senior teams in the past in Canada, Morand said they have been able (through various deals) to offer people the chance to play senior football at what he called a “reasonable” price.
Each player would have to pay a $50 insurance fee up front, then be charged $44 per game to play in a six-game regular season. Teams would be guaranteed at least one playoff game, with the championship to be played Sunday, Oct. 25 at Winnipeg Stadium.
Morand said all expenses for the championship game would be covered by the Shriners, who also have donated a league trophy.
The Storm, coached by former high school player and coach Tony Chirelly, has about 40 players on their roster (just 32 can dress for a game). But he noted more players would be needed due to time restrictions for many players through school or work commitments.
The team took to the field for the first time last week, with Morand saying practices will be “skill ones” to begin with. The offensive and defensive systems (which he noted are similar to many high school ones) would be implemented in later practices.
Morand said he doesn’t foresee any problems for those players who don’t come to camp until just before school starts.
So far, just one Fort Frances native, former Muskie Paul Carrier, 24, has been signed to play with the Storm this season.
“Players coming right out of high school keep in pretty good shape,” said Morand, who also will be playing in the league.
The biggest concern for the CSFL, he said, was to establish itself as a credible one and not some “fly-by-night” operation that will only exist for a few years. Morand said they ultimately would like to expand the league to include teams from Fort Frances, Dryden, and Kenora.
But while Muskie head coach Bob Swing felt it was a good idea to give players a chance to further their football careers beyond the high school level, he was skeptical about having a senior team here.
“What [the league] does is help those kids who are not academically eligible to play [college] football right away and lets them keep up their skills,” said Swing, a former Bison player himself.
“[But] although there would be probably a 100 people that would play, I can’t see it being plausible,” he added.
Swing, who has led the black-and-gold to consecutive NorWOSSA titles, said it would be tough to find coaches to run the program (he declared no interest in coaching at the senior level). He also worried about having players of various ages—and abilities—on the same gridiron.
“The league itself is a very good idea but when you have disparity, good things don’t happen,” Swing warned. “You get players who are 21 going against guys physically bigger at 26 and players are more prone to injury.”
Any area players interested in playing senior football in Thunder Bay this season can contact Morand at home (1-807-345-4503).