No one really expected the revitalization of football in Sylvan Lake to stick.
Moving into its 20th year, it’s fair to say the game has indeed stuck.
Not only has the game survived for 20 years, it has thrived.
Comprised of players from Grades 10 through 12, the H.J. Cody Lakers team have accomplished much during the last 20 years including four league championships. The past three were won back-to-back.
“No one expected us to survive,” said Jeremy Braitenback, who has been calling the shots as head coach for 20 years. “I think many people expected the game to die out rather quickly,”
The popularity of the Lakers even caused the sport to expand and grow in town, resulting in the development of the Sylvan Lake Minor Football Association.
Now the Lakers are joined by three other minor teams which allow player the chance to learn and play the game before starting in high school.
The Lions, Tigers and Bears are now teams offered for players aged nine to 15.
“It has been really successful so far. I never imagined it would be like this,” said Braitenback.
Braitenback totes the success of the program to the game itself.
He calls football an affordable after-school activity that many can take part in.
The sport has also become popular in Sylvan thanks to the opportunity it provides and the lessons it teaches.
“The kids learn many life lessons through football, conflict resolution for example,” said Braitenback.
Playing football has also created a multitude of relationships over the past 20 years. Braintenback explains the game creates strong friendships between the players, and staff.
He says watching the friendships form and strengthen every year has been a highlight.
“Other than winning games and championships, I have to say I’ve really loved watching the friendships and relationships form between the players,” said Braitenback.
The 20th season for the H.J. Cody Lakers begins on Aug. 28 with practise for the season opener on Sept. 8 against the Ponoka Broncs at home. The first game of the season begins at 4 p.m. on Sept. 8.