The Pemberton Grizzlies officially kicked off their football season last month, marking the fifth since the team was founded in 2012 and the first as associate members of the Vancouver Mainland Football League (VMFL).
Led by head coach John Burleson — who founded the competitive community program four years ago — the team is currently comprised of 26 high-school-aged players from Whistler, Pemberton, Mount Currie and Lillooet.
Whistler and Pemberton’s only youth football squad is a particularly young group this year, with the majority of its members in the midst of their first experience with the sport.
“We don’t have a lot of seniors on the team, we have a lot more younger players,” said Grizzlies assistant coach Mike Walberg. “We have maybe two players that have played before in different programs… That’s a little challenging, because you’re basically starting from scratch as far as teaching and coaching, but they learn fast.”
Despite this lack of experience, Walberg says this season’s group of Grizzlies are in it to win it — and have the right attitude to do so.
“Our team definitely practices really hard. We practice three times a week and we try to get the players in Crossfit in the off-season,” he said. “We don’t mess around during practices, every day we’re trying to get better. I think we can compete anytime we play, but in football it’s all about heart and how bad you want it. You might not be the most talented or most physical team, but it comes down to effort in the end.”
Though Walberg said competition amongst the four teams that make up VMFL’s nine-man midget division is steep this year, the Grizzlies are hoping to come out on top and end their season with an appearance at the British Columbia Community Football Association (BCCFA) Championship Game, set to take place November 19th in Kamloops.
“There’s definitely a lot of talented players in the league,” he said. “Our goal is to win the championship.”
Now three games into the season, the Grizzlies are sitting at 1-2. They fell short in the season opener with a 44-14 loss to the White Rock Titans on Sept. 11, before redeeming themselves in their first home match with an impressive 34-13 win over the Cloverdale Bengals on Sept. 24.
On Sunday (Oct. 2), the Pemberton team once again visited the White Rock Titans at South Surrey Athletic Park, where the Grizzlies allowed the Titans to hold onto their undefeated status, giving up the win with a score of 44-34.
As the season progresses, Walberg hopes the community’s support will grow along with the team. “We’d like to see more fans come out to the games,” he said.
Next up, the Grizzlies will take on the Squamish Sounders at home at Pemberton Meadows Field on Saturday (Oct. 8). “Even though they’re not in our league, they’re a bit of a rivalry team for us,” said Walberg. “We really like playing Squamish.” Kickoff takes place at 1 p.m.