It has been another banner season for the Cochrane Lions Atoms football team that wrapped up its season last weekend.
Head coach Tyler Zunti says the program continues to have great success at introducing the sport to boys and girls ages 8 to 10.
“We’ve had a few great seasons in a row with the atoms program,” says Zunti. “They’ve worked really hard and they’ve won a lot of games over the last three years.”
While scores aren’t officially kept in this development league, the team won all but their last game. They took that opportunity to give upcoming and graduating players a chance to try new positions in preparation for next season.
The program continues to be popular for local youth. The team carried a roster of 39 and had a waiting list. Players are accepted on a first come, first served basis.
“It has been very successful and the kids have a ton of fun. They learn some core values they can take throughout their lives. They learn about hard work, encouragement, intensity, adversity and it’s one of the best team sports out there.”
It also builds teamwork skills.
“They quickly understand the concept of teamwork and everybody pushing and pulling in the same direction.”
While the season just ended, Zunti is giving parents a head’s up for 2019.
“We have 24 graduating to peewee ranks so we are welcoming some new and up and coming 8 and 9-year-olds.”
Registration opens in the spring and training camp begins in June under the lights at the artificial turf, something he believes is pretty cool for the young players.
Calgary atoms league starts play in mid-August and continues until the end of October.
The games are controlled scrimmages at the atoms level. Coaches remain on the field to direct play.
“Once the atoms kids leave to go to peewee they step up into the real football game with refs, huddles, time clocks and punting and kicking.”
It’s not just about size. Football has a spot for players of all sizes and athletic abilities.
“We fit them into positions that work with their body types and their speed and then the kids have a ton of fun.”
“We, as coaches, make sure we get them in a position where they will be successful. When they come in, everyone wants to be the quarterback or running back, but there’s only one ball and there’s only one quarterback on the team. We need 10,11, 12 kids doing the same thing to make those guys have success.”
The season is relatively short. Once the season opens, they practice twice a week and play one game every Sunday on one of the three fields at Shouldice Park in Calgary.
Equipment rental is provided as part of the $350 registration fee and it also includes all team fees and field rentals. The team only uses top of the line helmets and coaches are trained to instruct players on how to tackle without helmet contact.
“The sport has changed over the last few years. We’re very aware of the concussion issues and the sport has evolved to meet those.”
Zunti looks forward to returning as head coach next season.
“I was handed a very good program from Scott (Mamchur) who was the previous coach who inherited a really good program from Craig (Hallden). We’ve had really strong coaches over the years and I had the opportunity to take it over.”
There will be coaching staff changes, though. Both defensive coordinator Mark Gelinas and offensive line coach Brent Boynton are moving on to help the peewee team next season after three years with the atoms.
Those interested in learning about the program more can visit the Cochrane Lions website: www.cochranefootball.com.