The Vernon Panthers senior varsity football team will be heading north to Prince George for a playoff date with the Duchess Park Condors Saturday, Nov. 20.
If the Panthers – the two-time reigning B.C. AA High School Subway Bowl Senior Varsity champions – should win Saturday, it could be their final victory of 2021.
B.C. School Sports (BCSS), the governing body of high school football, made the decision late Wednesday, Nov. 17, to modify its senior and junior varsity provincial championship structure to a regional style event due to the storm that hit the Lower Mainland on Sunday and Monday, resulting in severe flooding that closed all of B.C.’s major highways heading south.
BCSS made the change, it says, in consultation with its Football Advisory Committee Chair, AA Rep, AAA Rep, JV rep, Safety Coordinator and Championship Chair.
“This is extremely unfortunate, especially after missing the opportunity last year due to the pandemic, but necessary based on where we currently stand with regards to travel limitations across the province,” said BCSS on its website.
“We believe this is the best option to provide a safe and quality experience for athletes and football programs in all regions as they conclude their high school football season.”
According to the BCSS website, the winner of the Panthers-Condors match is slated to play the winner of a game between the South Kamloops Titans and Kelowna Owls either Friday, Dec. 3, or Saturday, Dec. 4, in what would be the Interior/North AA/AAA Subway Bowl final.
Panthers head coach Sean Smith said his team will fulfill its commitments to play the Northern champion Condors as hotels and buses have been booked. After that…
“If we win, my plan is to phone the president of BCSS and talk about other options,” said Smith. “This is late November, it’s time for the playoffs and in late November, you compete for a (provincial) championship.”
Coastal and Vancouver Island teams will play regional championships as well at both levels, with finals slated for B.C. Place Stadium in Vancouver where the provincial finals would have been played. Interior and Northern teams help pay rent on the facility for the provincials.
“The decision to move away from a provincial championship to a regional playoff to finish our season was not easy,” said Travis Bell, chairperson of the BCSS Football Advisory Committee. “The current uncertainty of travel conditions between the Interior and mainland, as well as the dynamic flooding situation in the Fraser Valley, were at the forefront of this decision-making process. Considering all the facts that we currently have, we feel it is the responsible decision to ensure the safety of our student-athletes, coaches, and their supporters.
“With this new model to finish the season, our intent is to still allow the programs who have qualified for the playoffs to continue to play games.”
Smith said his frustration stems from the fact that nobody from the Interior was consulted by BCSS over the decision to restructure the playoffs. He says he’s still waiting for a return phone call from BCSS on the matter.
“My reaction is they jumped the gun too quickly and made the decision (to restructure) too early,” said Smith. “I’m hearing at least one highway could be open soon and there would be ways to get to the Lower Mainland but that wasn’t discussed.”
Premier John Horgan declared a state of emergency in regards to the flooding on Wednesday.
“At a time where many families in our province are in crisis, there is the need to put things in perspective, and our hope is that the remaining games will continue to provide the opportunity for lifelong memories and a positive experience for our student-athletes and the schools and communities they represent,” said Bell.
Smith said his heart also goes out to his Grade 12 players, who didn’t get to play in 2020 because of the pandemic.
“There was no season for them last year, this year they get going, they reach the playoffs, and then a freak storm hits,” he said. “They’re two wins away from playing for a provincial championship. In football vernacular, it’s like they’re at the one-yard line ready to go into the end zone and it feels like they’ve had the carpet pulled out from under their feet.”
The Vernon Junior Panthers defeated the Westsyde Blue Wave of Kamloops 38-14 Wednesday, Nov. 17, at Greater Vernon Athletic Park in what was an Interior AA JV playoff game.
The BCSS website says the two teams are to play Nov. 24 (subject to change) so it’s unclear at this point if VSS will play another game this season.