Gord Randall has been through this before.
The head coach of the upstart Sullivan Heights Stars — the newborns of the BC high school football scene — was part of a startup program when he was at Seaquam in grade eleven. In fact, it was his parents who helped to start that program at the school.
“I said to my parents, ‘I must have the same disease you guys have’ because I’ve been going through the same bumps and hurdles and putting in all the same work [you did]” said Randall after a team’s practice on a crisp October evening. “Seeing a lot of the same headaches, but getting a lot of the same reward that you guys [did].”
There will be growing pains, that much is certain. But Randall through his experience on the field and on the sideline is as good a fit as you will find in the province.
Starting from Scratch
Sullivan Heights is in a unique situation.
This is not a program that has been dormant for a number of years. This is a program that has never existed in a community that has not really had prior experience with high school football.
It took the tireless work of not only Randall but also parents and students to get the ball rolling.
“Since grade eight I’ve always been asking athletic directors, teachers, what can we do to get a football program started” said Caden McTaggert, as wide receiver for the senior team. “Mr. Randall was of course the offensive line coach at new west. We talked about it and finally got it started in my senior year.”
“I’m a teacher here and I got a full time permanent contract a year and a half ago” explained Randall. “At that point I had kind of been talking to the administration once I got on full permanently here that this is what I want to do, so I’m going to go ahead and do it. So when they gave me the job our principal was like ‘You want to work here full time? By the way, don’t forget about that football program!’”
It’s been a constant effort since last October, with fundraising efforts securing the funding necessary to run the program. This includes a big donation from local business High Street Marketing, and plenty of bottle drives, pub nights, and car washes.
“It was a lot of fundraising and stuff because the team had to come together and help raise the money” said Ibrahim Khan, quarterback for the senior varsity team. “It’s not easy to get a football team and coach Randall helped us by getting us to stay on top of the fundraising. He believed in us and that’s how we got a football team.”
“The community has really rallied around us” said Randall. “It’s a big community but people don’t really identify that they are from Sullivan Heights, they more identify with Surrey. So I was a little worried as to how it would stick, but people have been really willing to help us out.”
Everyone is welcome
One of the unique things about Sullivan Heights is not only their first year status but who’s playing for them. Their senior team is populated by boys who have no experience, but girls as well. Victoria Johnson and Caitlin Werk are two who have decided to try out football for the first time.
“When I first started out, none of them really talked to me expect our mutual friends” said Johnson. “Doing drills and stuff, a lot of the guys are afraid to hit us. But we got past that because we’re going to get hit anyways, so it was better to get hit by them. They’re a lot more accepting now, they’ve gotten use to us. We do full on drills like everyone else.”
“In the beginning, they were really scared to physically tackle me full on” elaborated Werk. “I would always have to miss out on the tackling drills because I wouldn’t have a partner. That’s why I got her to join, so I could actually do it. Now it’s fine. We’re a jelled team. We’re all family, we’re all friends. It’s nothing different anymore.”
For his part, Randall was always willing to make his program accessible for both boys and girls. There have been logistical challenges, such as finding them a safe place to change. But he and the team have embraced both of them and have experienced no issues with other teams.
“First, I just give so much credit to Kate and Vikki” he said. “They both jumped right into the senior team, it’s not like they are with guys who aren’t fully developed. They’re right in with the seniors and they’ve been some of my most dedicated, hard working kids.
They can handle their own out there. They’re willing to come out and work hard. In a lot of ways, they’re better than a lot of guys.”
Shooting for the Stars
Sullivan Heights first season — at least measured by wins and losses — has probably not been what the team had hoped for.
The team has yet to win a game, and there have been challenges. First and foremost, trying to develop a culture while being less experienced than pretty much every team they’ve played.
“What kids who aren’t use to the sport struggle with is what’s normal soreness, versus what’s being injured” explained Randall. “That’s something that has been an ongoing thing. Another thing we found out in our last game in particular is that you have to be in the gym in the offseason doing a strength and conditioning program.
With us being new, we put together some stuff for our kids but kids didn’t really understand the importance of being in the room and how much a part of the sport it is. They kind of learned that this fall and we all had to learn from it.”
“It’s a learning curve for a lot of the kids because they’ve never played football before” said Khan. “This is a great chance for them to grow. We knew we weren’t going to have the best season but we just wanted to try our hardest and just have the next year have a better football team.”
But talk to any player, and they all say the right man is in charge to lead them to success.
“Coach Randall is more than a coach in a lot of ways” said Curtis Medeiros, a grade 10 lineman. “He’s always there for you, even if you’re doing bad he will try and bring you back up. He makes sure he doesn’t talk down to everybody, he tries to bring everybody up. Even if they’re not playing good he still gives them a chance.”
“He’s the most dedicated person I’ve seen, especially with this program” Werk said. “He spends every minute of the day focusing on this team. Focused on getting us rides, fundraisers, everything. He’s so dedicated to this team and he loves us all.”
Through all of it, Randall hasn’t forgotten the lessons he saw first hand when his parents put in the same type of effort to get his school a program many moons ago.
“It’s been great and they’re proud of what I’m doing and they feel like it’s their legacy” Randall said. “And that is what ultimately is at the core of this is that these kids are playing football where they otherwise would not have had a chance to play.”
Written by: Nick Bondi