NEWS

Inner-city Hamilton high school team headed to the Grey Cup

11/28/2014 12:39 EST | Updated 01/28/2015 05:59 EST
The energy is palpable on the coach bus parked at Sir John A. Macdonald high school Friday morning, as 26 members of the football team pack into its plush seats, bound for the Grey Cup in Vancouver.

Some hold footballs. Some have the moment of departure — 11 a.m. — programmed into their phones so their alarms will sound. They've been anticipating it for a month.

Statistically, the Sir John A. Macdonald Chiefs are not a winning team. More than half are immigrants who arrived in Canada with no knowledge of football. Some didn't know how to put on the equipment when they started. Some years, there are only 13 players, so everyone plays multiple positions. In coach Jeff Kott's 13 years at the helm, he's only had one team reach the division championships.

But they're heading for the Grey Cup as part of Nissan Canada and the CFL's Back in the Game program. The initiative is designed to encourage more youth to play football.

“You know how you're waiting for something and you can't wait for the day to come?” said Tijan Saah, 16, who plays both running back and linebacker with the Chiefs.

Finding out he was going “was the biggest news ever.”

The group of 26 players and three coaches and managers will go to B.C. Place on Sunday, where the Hamilton Tiger-Cats will face off against the Calgary Stampeders.

The students will also play an Edmonton team at the University of B.C. stadium. They're flying out of Hamilton on Friday afternoon and will return on Monday. Many have never been on an airplane.

It's a sweet moment for the school, a multicultural spot in inner-city Hamilton where many of its students are low income. 

“There's a lot of unbelievable kids here,” Kott said.

Saah immigrated to Canada from West Africa three years ago. He watched football in his home country, but soccer dwarfed its popularity. 

He was pleased to come to Canada and get a chance to play. And now, he gets to watch the Grey Cup.

“I've never been in B.C. Place stadium, so this is going to be amazing."

The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board plans to close the school in 2017.

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