"It was like a family"
The way Gord Goddard sees it, the first season of Sudbury Junior Spartans football was an absolute success, considering the organization had only one month to put everything in order in time for kickoff to the 2019 summer ball season.
“We really didn’t have a whole lot of things set, we didn’t have goals and bars,” said Goddard, president of the Sudbury Spartans and general manager of the Junior Spartans. “We wanted to provide a place for kids to play summer ball again in a competitive environment, and we wanted to create a team culture that would have kids and players wanting to come back to the organization.
“We’ve achieved both those goals. We took care of our players, our parents and our coaches. When you do that, you create a team culture that people want to be around.”
Which he believes the team has done. So much so, that in addition to the JV team for 15-and-16-year-old players, Goddard said it would be ideal to see the organization field a varsity team for players 17 and 18 in 2020.
“We have to make sure there’s a player demand and that parents are willing to commit to the organization,” Goddard said.
A decision on whether a varsity program will be created, he added, will be made in the coming weeks.
Asked if there is a player demand for a varsity team, Goddard said there is, mentioning that roughly 24 players of the 40 Junior Spartans are eligible to go up to a varsity age group.
“Even if you got 80 per cent of those guys,” Goddard said. “If 18 to 20 of them commit to go up, that’s half your team roster filled right there.
“We showed (the demand) with the junior varsity team. In a matter of three weeks, we signed 40 players to the organization, and there’s probably another 15-20 kids who wanted to play, but had already committed to other things in the spring.”
Goddard added he’s unsure whether there are enough players for the addition of a bantam team, due to recent declining numbers in the Joe MacDonald Youth Football League.
As for Reg Bonin, who coached the Junior Spartans to a 6-3 record, a first-place finish in their division, as well as an appearance in the semifinals, all in the team’s first season, he has expressed interest in returning to the Junior Spartans next season, but hasn’t come to a final decision quite yet.
For their part, Goddard and management would like to see Bonin return, but that decision is ultimately the coach’s to make.
“We 100 per cent want Reg and his staff back,” Goddard said. “They’ll talk to their families over the fall, and hopefully by Christmas, we have some sort of a commitment, (and know) where they’re leaning.”
“Reg and his staff were absolutely incredible to deal with. It was beyond everything we expected. His development as a coach, being able to bring that culture to the young Spartans team, was unreal.”
Devin Zloty, 16, and who served as a quarterback for the Junior Spartans last season, said he would likely commit to a varsity Spartans team, saying, “it feels good to be part of a team who can win.”
And he’s optimistic about the future of the Junior Spartans, too.
“I feel really good for them,” Zloty said. “A lot of the receivers and half of the linemen were Grade 9s. A good chunk of the offence was Grade 9s, which gives them a solid building block for next year. I think they’ll do pretty well.”
Connor Craftchick, 15, a defensive back, and a recent transfer to Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School, who is eligible to return to the Junior Spartans next season, said he’d gladly suit up for the local Ontario Provincial Football League product again, while taking on more of a leadership role. He credits the team’s defensive co-ordinator and defensive backs coach, Jordan Desilets, as someone who helped improve his game throughout the season.
“I’ve been playing football for a long time and that was probably the most enjoyable season,” said Craftchick, who has been playing since the age of eight “I made good friends, had a good experience with the team, learned a lot about my position, there were good players, and it was overall a good atmosphere.”
That’s the message from players and coaching staff. Everyone, it seems, thoroughly enjoyed the inaugural Junior Spartans season.
“It was a close team,” Craftchick said. “Everyone bonded really quickly. It was like a little family.”
He also touted Bonin and his coaching staff as the “best coaching staff I’ve ever had.”
“They like to joke around with the players, and they’re nice, but when it’s time to get to work, we get to work, and that worked out quite nicely for us,” Craftchick said.
Craftchick described this past season as one of the best experiences he’s had up to date, “not just in sports, but in life.”
“Honestly, I love football,” Craftchick said. “Playing at a level like that, with a bunch of friends that I have made, was quite enjoyable. Meeting new kids, and not just kids on the (Junior) Spartans, but playing against Woodstock, Toronto, I made a couple of friends there that I’m not going to forget.”
With a couple of key playmakers able to return to the team next season, with the likes of Joshua Morin, Blake Ramalho and Joss Van Den Enden, Craftchick said he believes the Junior Spartans are set for another big year when the next season of summer football rolls around.
“We’ll definitely be looking to sign up guys who are really good, too,” Craftchick said. “Hopefully, we keep the good players we have and add some new players to add to this ever-growing team. I’m excited to get back working with the (Junior) Spartans again and coming back next season, getting back to where we were, but win this time.”