‘It's never going to leave our hearts'
Alberta high school football team that lost four players in crash visiting city
By Larry Moko
The Hamilton Spectator (Aug 25, 2012)
The high school football team from Alberta which drew national media attention by losing four of its players in a car crash last October 22 is currently in Hamilton on a youth exchange program.
The Grande Prairie Composite School Warriors arrived Wednesday evening. Their 31 players who made the trip — 20 from last year's team — are staying with families of the St. Mary Secondary School Crusaders football team. After participating in a wide range of cultural and athletic activities in the Golden Horseshoe, both squads are to depart for Edmonton International Airport on Tuesday. In Grande Prairie, the Crusaders will then be hosted at Warrior players' homes for five days.
The exchange is funded through SEVEC (Society for Educational Visits and Exchanges in Canada), a national charitable organization that provides enriching educational opportunities for youth in order to foster understanding of, and appreciation from, Canada's geographic and cultural diversity.
“I think they are doing as well as can be expected,' former Grande Prairie Composite head coach and school principal Rick Gilson said of the Warriors as they watched a Marauders practice at Ron Joyce Stadium Friday morning. “Memories are constant, though.”
Walter Borden-Wilkins, 15, Matthew Deller, 16, Tanner Hildebrand, 15, and Vincent Stover, 16, were killed when the car in which they were riding was struck by a pickup truck driven by a 21-year-old. A fifth Warrior player — Zach Judd — was in a medically-induced coma after the crash but has recovered to the point where he accompanied the team to Hamilton.
The driver of the pickup faces numerous charges, including four counts of impaired driving causing death and failing to remain at the scene of an accident. The preliminary hearing is scheduled Aug. 29, the day the Crusaders and Warriors arrive in Grande Prairie.
Some of the Warriors players have tattoos of ex-teammates' initials or numbers. Others have wristbands or background-screen football pictures on their phones.
“It's never going to leave our hearts,” Gilson said.
After the grief counselling sessions and funerals that the Warriors attended, they decided to continue playing last season. The Warriors went on to win the northwestern Alberta championship, the Peace Bowl, but bowed out before making the provincial finals. Said Gilson: “You do that (keep playing) in the knowledge that for sure it's what these guys would have wanted. The sun comes up. You have to put a foot forward after a foot forward and keep on going.”
The Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board sponsored a welcome banquet for the participants on Thursday in the St. Mary cafeteria. On Friday afternoon both high school teams held their first practice at the St. Mary field. The players visited Niagara Falls on Thursday and have a sightseeing trip to Toronto — including the Hockey Hall of Fame — pencilled in for Sunday. On Monday, the teams scrimmage at 2 p.m. at Ivor Wynne Stadium.
The exchange was organized by St. Mary football coach Sean Dennison. “We definitely have Sean to thank,” Gilson said. “He contacted me in January and asked if we would be interested.”
According to Dennison, SEVEC pays the transportation costs for the boys. “The cost for each kid is reasonably small for the events taking place,” he said. “We contacted coach Gilson with the idea of the exchange because his outlook on sports mirrors ours. We love football.
“More importantly, we are acutely aware that we are helping to produce young men who will be our future community leaders. What they learn about themselves in the face of victory and adversity will help shape their tomorrows. Sports develop character.”
Gilson remains with the team — as an assistant to Lee Brentnell — but next month takes on a new job as district principal in the Grande Prairie public board's centre office. According to Gilson, the surviving member of the crash is doing relatively well but is a long way off from being cleared to play football.
“He (Judd) is happy and quite a jokester,” Gilson said. “He's very much appreciated by everyone here.”
Dennison said 35 Crusader players and six coaches will be making the trip to Alberta. The teams will wind up the exchange by playing a Northern Lights Bowl on Saturday, Sept. email@example.com
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