UNB Red Bombers part of proposed grid league
Chapman field would be ideal location for Bombers team, says McIntyre


SAINT JOHN - Darcy Barker believes there's room for more football in Saint John.

In fact, the commissioner of the Maritime Football League would welcome another Port City pigskin team.

"I think any football we can get in eastern Canada is good,'' Barker said. "If you go to Quebec they have CEGEP football, and they have junior football in Ontario.''

If a new club does indeed take the field in the fall, it would be the University of New Brunswick Saint John Seawolves of the Atlantic Football League. Organizers of the AFL also plan to field teams in Fredericton and Moncton.

The new league would target players aged 18-24 wishing to attend a post-secondary institution immediately after high school. Players in that category often have difficulty playing for university teams that are under the Canadian Interuniversity Sport umbrella.

CIS teams often recruit older players who come to campus with CEGEP or junior football experience under their belts, making it difficult for players coming straight out of high school to make the grade on the college gridiron.

Barker played high school football at Simonds with John Kane, who went on to play for Acadia. Kane, however, was the exception instead of the rule.

"He was a 17-year-old rookie going against 20-year-old rookies,'' said Barker, now the head coach at Simonds. "John was probably the top prospect coming out of Atlantic Canada back then, but I know lots of high school kids who are just too small and too young (to play for CIS teams).''

Barker said the AFL would provide a good level of competition for players while providing an opportunity to live at or near home. The commissioner also feels there's a niche for a loop with younger players.

The MFL included 10 teams in 2008, and Barker estimates that only about 20 per cent of the players were in the 18-20 age group. Most of the other 80 per cent, he said, would include players in their mid-20s to mid-30s.

The UNBSJ squad would be considered a club team. Unlike UNBSJ's varsity teams that are registered with the Atlantic Colleges Athletic Association, club teams do not receive funding from the university.

That's why AFL organizers need to raise funds through their own efforts and the support of others. Community activist Barry Ogden announced Monday the AFL would begin play in the fall, but admitted the league didn't have an official schedule, constitution or venues.

Like the MFL, the AFL likes the idea of a pre-season jamboree.

"We're definitely going to support it,'' Barker said of the MFL's position on the new circuit. "For guys coming out of high school, it's probably their best option right now.

"It could be very interesting. As long as they stay local, they can probably run their teams for $4,000 or $5,000 per season.''

Barker said volunteers could be a key in helping the league get off the ground, adding the area's passion for football will bring out plenty of helping hands.

"The football community is pretty small, but it's pretty tightly-knit,'' he said. "We would just love to have more football in this area.''

Barker feels a successful AFL could generate enough money to warrant a berth in the CIS. That destination, however, isn't necessarily his prediction.

"Anything is possible. If you can get the student body on board, they can go to the university and say 'Look what we're doing.' If you can bring 1,200 people or so out to a game, maybe it would be something they would be interested in (supporting).''

Former Fredericton High School head coach Larry Wisniewski is leading the charge in the Capital City. The club team would be called the UNB Red Bombers to honour the university team that ceased operations in 1980.

"From a Fredericton point of view, going the UNB route was the marketing tool to go with, especially with the UNB Red Bombers name,'' said Terry McIntyre, a "resource person'' working with Wisniewski.

"Those of us in the football community would support that because it's most viable. Even the kids coming up in the minor system know about the Red Bombers. It's like Greek mythology.''

The past president of the Capital Area Minor Football Association, McIntyre still sits on the board of directors.

He was involved in helping minor teams play games at Chapman Field on the UNB campus. He's hopeful the same venue will be used for an AFL club.

"I know there's time available to schedule games (at Chapman Field),'' McIntyre said. "With all-weather turf and lights, you can find time to schedule games.''

McIntyre said securing corporate sponsorship won't be a pivotal factor for the AFL, if costs are kept under control.

"We haven't really tested the waters,'' the former Mount Allison defensive halfback said. "We're in the middle of a recession. These operations are going to be run quite frugally. Sponsors will not make or break (the AFL).''

McIntyre added the UNB team has interest in playing home-and-home dates with a club team at the University of Maine Orono, adding that a three-team AFL would create some bye weeks.

He said such a series could become an annual tradition. Those games would also keep the Red Bombers sharp for their AFL season, McIntyre added.

"I think there are three reasonably good groups involved here. There are people who've been involved in the game for a long time and people who've been involved with starting teams.''

Dan Fougere is behind the effort to bring the AFL to Moncton.

The head coach and general manager of the MFL's Moncton Marshals favours the formation of a junior team whose better players would be in position to eventually make a CIS squad.

"I've always wanted to get a junior team started, so (the AFL) could be part of that,'' Fougere said.

"I don't want to be affiliated with any university, because I don't want a university telling us how to run our league.

"We all have our opinions on where we fit, and now we just have to compromise. It may not be exactly what I want, but it's a start.''

Fougere, the president of the Moncton Football Association and past president of Football New Brunswick, said there's lots of work to do between now and the hopeful kick off in mid-September.

"The drawback I see happening is trying to get officials and working around the high school schedule,'' he said. "If we can work that out, I can't see why it won't fly.''

Fougere is also concerned about how the AFL will tackle corporate assistance. MFL teams come up with their own individual team plans, and the league doesn't work together on corporate packages.

Fougere feels the AFL should have one plan as it pursues assistance from the business community.

"The way the economy is going right now, the dollar is going to be tight,'' Fougere said. "We have to decide how we're going to splits costs. We can't wait until the last minute.

"It's going to come to a point where we have to sit down for a whole day. We have to do that within a couple of weeks.''

Fougere hopes to know more concrete information about the Moncton team in May.

He's hopeful of a cycle that would see AFL players give back to the game by refereeing and/or coaching minor football in the area.