The Canadian Junior Football League (CJFL) has officially cancelled its 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, impacting several Airdrie athletes who play for junior teams.
“It is very disappointing to make this announcement, but our priority is the health and safety of our players, coaches, staff and team administrators,” said CJFL Commissioner Jim Pankovich in a statement Aug. 7.
The CJFL oversees competitive U21 football in western Canada and Ontario, providing talented high school graduates a pathway to continue their football development. Junior players often move on to join university programs or try out for professional teams after a few seasons.
According to the CJFL, return-to-play guidelines that didn't allow for large enough gatherings to make training and competition viable for athletes was the primary reason for cancelling the season.
Many Airdrie athletes play for CJFL teams, including Jamal Bacchus. The receiver graduated from W.H. Croxford High School in 2019 and currently plays for the Vancouver Island Raiders. The Nanaimo-based team competes in the CJFL's British Columbia Football Conference (BCFC).
Bacchus, who was a leader for the Croxford Cavaliers football team during his high school career, said he was disappointed the 2020 season was called off.
“I was really looking forward to going back out for another season,” he said. “But with the way things were looking, I kind of knew they’d probably take this year off, just due to the health side of things.
“Obviously, it’s a blow for all the players, but in the end, we’d rather be safe and in good health than risk it.”
Bacchus added playing in the BCFC provided him the opportunity to improve his skills last year, and he was excited to continue that development this summer.
“Going right into it, it was obviously a huge change, especially coming from Airdrie ball,” he said. “You’re playing against guys who are 21, 22 years old, so once you get into the league, you have to learn to adapt quickly to a higher calibre.
“It was great though because you pick up a lot of things from the veterans on the team and see how everything works. I know with my game...there was just a complete difference, and I was really looking forward to it again.”
Another Airdrie player who was looking forward to kicking off his second season of junior football is Reid Jensen, who plays for the Langley Rams. Like Bacchus, the 19-year-old slotback said he was eager to build on the experience of his first year in the BCFC.
He added it will be frustrating to wait another year for that opportunity.
“The way football works, you go through your rookie season, you take your lumps and then you’re supposed to be back the next season not being a rookie,” he said. “As you go through, getting toward senior, you just get better and better.”
While in Airdrie, Jensen was a member of both the George McDougall High School Mustangs and the Airdrie Raiders midget team. Though he initially signed a letter of intent to join the University of Calgary Dinos after high school, he ultimately opted to take the junior route.
“I honestly think [the BCFC] is a super competitive league and there’s an enormous amount of skilled players,” he said. “People hear junior and might think it’s not good football, but the BCFC is definitely on a different level than what kids grow up hearing what junior football is.”
While Bacchus and Jensen have already logged time as rookies in the CJFL, some Airdrie players were set to play junior ball for the first time this year.
Tyler Ruck, a 2020 graduate of Bert Church High School, was slated to join Bacchus on the Raiders this summer, along with W.H. Croxford graduate Charlie Simmons.
Ruck, a linebacker, said he was upset to learn his first junior season was called off but understood the decision.
“I was pretty disappointed, but I had it prepared in my head that it was going to happen,” he said. “That’s what happened with U SPORTS, so I wasn’t that surprised by it. But it does suck.”