By Dale Woodard on June 23, 2021.
Growing up, Joel Van Pelt and Ross DeLauw honed their football skills on the north side at Winston Churchill High School and again in their post-secondary careers with the Calgary Dinos.
On Saturday afternoon at the University of Lethbridge Stadium, the former Bulldogs and Dinos were back on familiar turf, this time as members of a high-profile coaching staff of Dinos representatives at the South Knights University of Calgary Skills Camp.
Roughly 70 peewee and bantam football players took the field for the one-day camp, looking to put the COVID-19 pandemic that cost everybody a year behind them and get ready for the fall season.
For Van Pelt and DeLauw it was a reunion of sorts.
“I’ve always played football with Joel,” said DeLauw.
“Since Grade 4,” chimed in Val Pelt.
That goes back a way, but both locals recently ended their impressive football runs.
Last week, Van Pelt announced his retirement from the Canadian Football League, having spent the 2019 season with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
DeLauw capped off his Dino years as a Vanier Cup champion in 2019.
On Saturday, the two were back on the gridiron, this time in a coaching capacity, fittingly working next to each other with different groups of players.
“It’s been a while since any of us have been on a football field,” said DeLauw. “It’s definitely a different approach as a coach right now. I’ve had to realize what they’re capable of and where they’re at as far as skills and knowing what to teach. Overall, it’s been a good time and everyone is happy to be out there.
“I’m glad to help the local football community and hopefully grow it if possible and in other towns as well. There are a few Raymond guys out here. Especially for the local kids to see the big city Dinos coming down. They get to learn from great coaches with tons of football experience. I think it’s good for everyone.”
“It’s great, added Van Pelt. “It’s always fun to bring the kids over here and do some drills. They can absorb so much. It’s pretty cool watching the progress from the morning practice compared to the afternoon. The sheer numbers they have out here, I love to see all these kids coming out here.”
With COVID restrictions easing up even more with Alberta headed into Stage 3 of the Open For Summer initiative, DeLauw noted the athletes’ excitement of finally putting the pandemic behind them and getting to play again.
“I’m sure it’s good for them to get out and run around and actually sports again,” he said.
“They missed out on a lot of that. They only have so many years in sports, so every year counts and they improve so much every year. It’s good we’re back at it.”
Fortunately for DeLauw, he was able to sneak in a Vanier Cup championship just before COVID hit.
“That was definitely the highlight of my career and the best possible way to end my career,” he said. “Not many football players get to finish off with a win. So to do that with a national championship was amazing. I can’t ask for much more out of a university football career.”
Back in Lethbridge, DeLauw is attending Lethbridge College, taking geomatics engineering technology after getting his geography degree from the University of Calgary.
“I’m just kind of enjoying my life without football,” he said. “I’m definitely missing it now. So that’s another reason why it’s good to get back into the sport a little bit. It’s just doing the things I couldn’t do when I was so committed to football, doing some golfing and biking and things I couldn’t do as much.”
Van Pelt is also hitting the books, finishing up his mathematics degree online.
“I got a bunch of free courses through the CFL,” he said.
He was a practice roster player in Hamilton, but Van Pelt spoke highly of his time with the Tiger-Cats.
“It was amazing,” he said. “Coach O (Orlando Steinauer) was amazing coach, very inspirational the entire time there.”
It was very impressive to see someone bring so much energy to the field every single day.
“It was really nice being around those kinds of people. Every coach and trainer we had was really nice, and the management, too. They were so friendly and talked to everyone. I was just on the practice roster last year and they would still go out of their way to come by and say hi and check up on me. I liked it a lot.”
On Saturday, the peewee and bantam aged players ran through their paces as sports ease back into action.
“Normally every two years we have Summer Games team through Football Alberta and that’s what the South Knights are,” said Jason Jensen, head coach of the South Knights program and president of the Southern Alberta Minor Football Association. “This year with it being cancelled, Football Alberta has still put together a game called the Bantam Showcase, which will be one game happening in Red Deer in the middle of July and the South Knights will be represented at that one.”
As COVID regulations lightened up, Jensen said they worked with the Lethbridge Vipers to organize the clinic.
“Between our contacts and theirs we talked to (head coach) Wayne Harris from the Dinos and they were all for it,” said Jensen. “For the local guys it’s a big thing because it shows all these local kids that this is possible. You have one guy who has played in the CFL who is from Lethbridge and another won a Vanier Cup with the Dinos and they’re guys who played football here in Lethbridge.”
Jensen noted the excitement of just being back on the field as they get ready for the fall.
“A lot of them I talk to, you almost hear relief in the voices. One kid said it feels like normal and that’s what a lot of the coaches and parents here have been saying. This is the first weekend in a long time that things have just felt normal.”
Bantam showcase tryouts will take place July 3 for kids who would have played bantam football this past fall who are going into Grade 10.
“We’ve been given an exemption from Football Alberta,” said Jensen. “Normally we can’t do anything in July, but they’ve lifted that this year because everybody had their springs wiped out.”
Anybody looking for a place for their kids to play can visit http://www.southabfootball.ca is the SAMFA website. There are links to every Lethbridge team and the southern Alberta teams.
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