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Thunderbirds prepare for the 2023 season

Home opener kicks-off season at WES field Sept. 14 at 5 p.m.
The Westlock Thunderbirds have been preparing for the upcoming season with practices, including one Sept. 6, where Kaine Schmelzle tried to get around his teammates during a blocking drill. The regular season begins at home on Thursday, Sept. 14 against the Roland Michener Rams from Slave Lake.

WESTLOCK — The Westlock Thunderbirds will hit the field for the 2023 regular season when they welcome the Roland Michener Rams from Slave Lake for their home-opener Sept. 14.   

Following spring training in May and June for high schoolers, the T-Birds have been practising three times a week from Monday to Wednesday on the east field at R.F. Staples School and will return to the field behind Westlock Elementary School for game days on Thursdays.  

“This is our second week of practice. We’ve decided to extend our registration for the whole month of September,” said first-year head coach Jared DeJong. “We’re probably around 25 registered kids (so far).”    

The Thunderbirds are entering their second season in the Alberta Six-A-Side Football League, which included 15 teams in eastern and western divisions. This year, however, the league has been restructured and has introduced tiers, noted DeJong, pointing out Tier 1 includes the top teams from last season with the T-Birds in Tier 2.   

“We’re really not going to see many teams (from last year). Slave Lake, we’re going to see twice this year and we played them last year. Otherwise, it’s all going to be different teams,” he said, noting their opponents will include teams from Caroline, Hanna, and Drayton Valley.     

Students in Grades 9 -12 are eligible to play with the Thunderbirds this year, noted DeJong, adding they have had some Grade 8 students out for practices as well and it is the first season Grade 9 students will be allowed to play with the team. They are expecting several new faces with about 10 or 12 returning veterans on this year’s team.  

With their first season playing in the Six-A-Side league last year, DeJong said it was a steep learning curve for both players and coaches and moving forward, they are looking to improve on last year’s standings which included just one regular season win.   

“That’s the building block that we want to start with,” said DeJong, noting the biggest priority for the T-Birds this season will be “to expand and grow with what we’ve learned and how we’ve understood football.”  

“We’ve got lots of brand new players so that’s going to change how our team looks,” he added.

With the regular season running seven weeks, the T-Birds also hope to see a higher number of players on the roster this year, pointing out the physical toll, including injuries, that adds up in the season.  

“By the end of seven weeks it’s a really long season so you get worn out a little bit,” said DeJong. “We’re really hoping to have some more depth with having some more bodies where we don’t have to worry (so much) about those injuries.”    

Seven regular season league games have been scheduled between mid-September and the end of October, before playoffs begin. They include four home games and three away games in Camrose, Drayton Valley and Slave Lake.      

The T-Birds squared off against the Roland Michener Rams from Slave Lake in an exhibition game Sept. 9 and will welcome them back for their season opener Sept. 14 at 5 p.m.

Kristine Jean,

Kristine Jean

About the Author: Kristine Jean

Kristine Jean joined the Westlock News as a reporter in February 2022. She has worked as a multimedia journalist for several publications in Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta, and enjoys covering community news, breaking news, sports and arts.
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