The Vancouver Island Raiders football team held a three-day main camp at Ballenas Secondary field over the weekend.
There were approximately 80 Raiders players and 20 coaches and volunteers who were all over the field training and honing their respective skills. Action started on Friday and ended up with a scrimmage on Sunday.
This was a first for the Nanaimo-based Raiders to hold their main camp in Parksville. The camp was hosted by Ballenas Whalers Football, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.
“We’re really pumped about it,” said Raiders general manager Josh Williams. “The big thing is, because we’re a big community team from Nanaimo, it’s always good to form positive alliances with the other football organizations on the Island. Ballenas welcomed us, so it was great.”
Ballenas head coach Dan Smith, who has been a staunch supporter of football in Parksville Qualicum Beach, said they wanted to showcase what football is all about to parents and young players and to eliminate the stigma that the sport is too rough and dangerous for young players.
Williams said building strong partnerships and alliances is key to promoting football.
“The whole goal is to get as many kids playing football as we can,” said Williams. “We’re here trying to grow the sport. It requires many hands to make it work. So why not get the organizations to pull together for the sport and establish a team environment and do it collectively as possible.”
The Raiders were provided accommodations at Winchelsea Elementary School where they slept in for two nights. They also used Ballenas Secondary for other purposes.
Williams said it was a massive task to undertake and credited the parents and the volunteers who came out to help make the camp run smoothly.
“Our organization has phenomenal workers,” said Williams.
“We have a great group of moms whose kids have been playing here since they were five years old. It creates that family environment which is one of my biggest focuses as GM. We preach family all the time. Without the volunteers and the people that come out everyday, we wouldn’t be as successful as we are.”
With a lot of the players coming from all over Canada, Williams said, the goal was to try and make them bond together as a family.
“We had to make sure that they’re all taking care of each other,” said Williams. “That’s what we want.”
Among the players who were out taking part in the camp over the weekend was Ballenas graduate, lineman Alex Williams, who had his hair partly shaved. He said it was a Raiders ritual performed on first-year players and he didn’t mind it all.
“I like it,” said Williams.
As for the training, Williams is savouring every minute of it.
“I love it,” he said. “It’s so different. It’s tougher but I am enjoying it.”
The Raiders are preparing for the BC Football Conference season which gets underway Aug. 3. They will play their first two games on the road against the Langley Rams at McLeod Athletic Park in Langley at 4 p.m. Then on Aug. 10, the Raiders head to Victoria to take on the Rebels at Westhill Stadium at 7 p.m. The Raiders play their first game at home on against the Kamloops Broncos at Caledonia Park in Nanaimo at 2 p.m.
Last year, the Raiders finished in third place in the regular season with six wins and four losses.