Saved by the Ball

During my days at Vanier Catholic Secondary School I played football during lunch. After scarfing down some sustenance we would head to the soccer field, divide the available players, and fling ourselves around the gridiron for half-an-hour before returning inside for afternoon classes.

In the spring the floodgates opened and an assortment of jocks, stoners, metal heads, non-virgins, confused exchange students, and girls would join us; but in the middle of winter it was typically only myself, Adam Scheck, Barrett Mataseje (yes, that Barrett Mataseje), Jesse Koeller, John Walsh, PhD, Chris Fozard and Jeff Faulkner.

In Grade 10 there was a football game every day, no matter what the weather.

I remember times when my hands would get so numb that I couldn’t properly hold a pencil for most of the afternoon —making my chicken scratch notes even more illegible than usual.

Because our midwinter matches were often just three-on-three, we adapted the rules of Vanier football to suit our needs. In our game:

•The quarterback couldn’t run unless he was rushed. If the defense didn’t send someone hunting for a sack, the QB had to throw the ball.

•A receiver could only gain 10 yards after a reception. As a result, if a player evaded the initial tackle, he couldn’t just run unchallenged into the end zone.

And my favourite:

•Offensive pass interference was not only legal, it was necessary. If you were on offence, a typical first down would involve running about five yards downfield, locating the player who was guarding your teammate and then trying to knock said player ass-over-tea-kettle. A savvy defender would see this developing, brace for the impact, and then yell “switch,” at which point he and his partner would trade coverage responsibilities.

I hated high school.

Hated it.

I was reasonably well liked, had solid friends and even had some good teachers — Rick Griffiths introduced me to Albert Camus in English 12 — but the institution was obviously designed for people with less imagination than me. I nearly failed French 11 and graduated with marks barely good enough to get into university — where I thankfully fared much better.

But every lunch hour I got to head out to the back forty and play a sport that I had a central role in inventing.

My advice to high school students like myself is to find half-an-hour a day where they can use their creativity to become masters of their own domain, which I don’t mean in the Seinfeld sense. I wouldn’t want to take that away from kids.

I shudder to think where I would be if it wasn’t for lunch hour football.

Peter Jickling is a Whitehorse playwright and the assistant editor of What’s Up Yukon

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