When the G.W. Graham Grizzlies beat the Sardis Falcons 18-0 in a AAA playoff game Friday night (Nov. 12) at Exhibition Stadium, history was made.
Exhibition Stadium seats 2,500 and every seat was taken as fans took in the first-ever football game between the Grizzlies and the Falcons.
Several hundred more people stood wherever they could find space. More fans watched from outside the venue, cheering through the chain-link fence.
They weren’t disappointed.
The underdog Falcons put up a fierce fight against the powerhouse Grizzlies. The score was 6-0 into the fourth quarter, and it took a couple of late G.W. Graham touchdowns to finally put Sardis away.
For Grizzlies coach Luke Acheson and Falcons bench boss Sukh Parmar, the significance of the game went well beyond the scoreboard. Both men can remember a time pre-2012 when there was no high school football in Chilliwack.
“I’m super excited about the growth of football in Chilliwack, because now you’ve got good football just about everywhere possible,” Acheson said. “We’ve got two teams (senior and junior varsity) at both G.W. Graham and Sardis. The (Chilliwack Minor Football) Giants have always been the class of the province in my eyes, and the (BC Football Conference) Valley Huskers are an ascending junior program.
“Ten years ago we basically only had one program that was successful (the Giants), and my question now is, when is Chilliwack secondary school going to get into this mix?”
GW Graham’s track record of success speaks for itself, with three AA junior varsity provincial championship banners hanging in the school gymnasium. With the win over Sardis they’re one step closer to another trip to BC Place Stadium for a provincial playoff game.
Sardis made the playoffs for the first time this year, going undefeated (4-0) in regular season play to win the AAA Pacific Conference.
Acheson said the Falcons “are doing it the right way,” which should lead to sustainable success.
“I’ve been here since 2011 and I just see all this as a win-win good news story, and so many people have worked so hard to bring football to where it is in Chilliwack,” Parmar said. “I truly believe the (Fraser) Valley is going to end up being a hotbed and powerhouse for high school and community football for the foreseeable future.”
What exists now is a local football ecosystem where the Giants are feeding into the Grizzlies and Falcons, who are feeding into the Huskers.
Acheson said there’s a level of cooperation that didn’t exist 10 years ago.
“Half of my (coaching) staff is from the Giants, and half of it is members of the Huskers executive,” he said. “We don’t work with Sardis yet but it would be nice to get them into that fold. It would be great to get all of those entities together to run some sort of community event and really show the strength of football in Chilliwack.
“I think that would be amazing for our city.”
The best thing to come out of the football surge in Chilliwack is that local kids are staying home.
Pre-G.W. Graham you had players going to Abbotsford to play at W.J. Mouat or elsewhere. With successful minor, high school and junior programs there’s no longer any reason to leave.
“I think it’s about attracting more kids to it and that’s where future growth will continue to happen,” Parmar said. “They’ll start in community and spill over to high school, and then onto junior. Would there be an appetite for a flag program in middle schools? I truly believe in the affordability of football and all the things a football environment and team culture brings to kids, and it’s exciting to see this happening.”