WESTLOCK — The Westlock Thunderbirds Football Association recognized several athletes for their contributions to a successful season during their annual awards banquet Nov. 28 at Memorial Hall.
The evening featured a catered meal, a video production with game highlights and an annual general meeting (AGM) that saw several returning board members and a couple of new ones elected, in addition to award presentations in several categories.
Thunderbirds head coach Jared DeJong shared a recap of the team’s successful season and thanked the coaching staff, including Cole Medke, Keith Shologan, Ryan Medke, Brad Watson, and Curtis Vesely, for their time, dedication and hard work with the team this year.
“While our season didn’t have the conclusion that we wanted to have, I’m already looking back on it seeing some of the highlights and some of the good things that happened,” said DeJong. “I’m already encouraged at how we persevered through a bunch of things, how we grew and how we improved over the season as it went on, and how bright the future is for this program going forward.”
DeJong noted the team “started the regular season with a bang,” after a victory in their home opener Sept. 14. They followed that up with several more wins and a couple of losses to finish the regular season with a 4-2 record in Tier 2 of the Alberta Six-A-Side Football League. The T-Birds began the first round of the playoffs against Caroline at home and won that playoff round 57-6 before moving onto the Tier 2 semi-final against Camrose, which they lost by just two points in a “frigid defence battle” to bring their season to a close.
Following the season recap, awards were presented in several categories including Rookie of the Year, Leadership Award, Heart and Soul Award, Best Defensive Player, Best Offensive Player, Most Improved Player and Most Valuable Player (MVP).
“Throughout the season we tell the players in various ways and at different times that (playing) football is all about the team. A football team is a family,” said DeJong, adding that the awards did not imply some players were better than others but were handed out “to try to honour those who have gone above and beyond in their contributions to the team.”
Football is about studying and preparing, growing and improving, sweating and sacrificing, said DeJong, especially sacrificing their time and bodies.
“Through that journey we get to grow character and create memories with great people that often stick with us for the rest of our lives,” he said.
Two of this year’s award recipients, 14-year-old Rookie of the Year Nate Rigney and 16-year-old MVP Cooper Buchko, both noted some of the reasons behind the team’s success on the field this year.
“I think a lot of it was a lot of the new guys – there were a lot of new guys coming in from Grade 9 and 10 that did a lot for the team,” said Rigney. “I wasn’t sure I was going to win (Rookie of the Year) but I was pretty happy when I did,” he added.
Buchko agreed and felt just as honoured at earning the MVP award.
“It’s pretty satisfying. Show up for practice every day, work hard, be smart and try to help the other people around you. That’s really what it’s all about,” said Buchko, who was named an all-star, along with teammate Jacob Gaede. The two will try-out for an all-star game next May. “(There was) a lot more effort, focus, attention and we had some better athletes this year,” he added. “More guys were willing to learn and just the overall attitude of the players really helped contribute to our success.”