The Prince George Kodiaks Football Club is expanding its horizons.
The Kodiaks have leased a parcel of city on the east side of Heather Road on the former site of three Babe Ruth baseball diamonds that were decommissioned five years ago. The club plans to build one full-sized football field of CFL dimensions with lighting as well as two smaller fields to help spur the growth of field sports in the Hart community at the north end of the city.
The club is also proposing construction of a parking lot and a 30-foot X 100-foot building at the site south of the Ellksentre Arena. The plan calls for a three-metre wide walking path contained within the field area by a high fence.
Kodiaks program manager Ryan Bellamy said the success of the Kodiaks’ 7-on-7 touch football league for players in Grades 2-7 this spring is a sign of renewed football interest in the city. Kids in the Hart have been using the field for the now-closed Austin Road Elementary School but the Kodiaks want a dedicated facility in the area, where they can play nighttime games as an alternative to the turf field at Masich Place Stadium, which is in high demand.
“For our future growth plans with the team we’re looking at being able to run more programming and with that is going to come the need to run later times in the fall to run practices and currently Masich is the only lit field,” said Bellamy. “So a field project where we can build a home that’s going to have the right setup and but lit is exactly what we’re looking for.”
The 7-on-7 league has about 40 players from Hart neighbourhoods involved in the inaugural season that goes to the end of June. They practice and play games in three different age groups twice a week at Austin Road, then meet teams from the other two city zones (Bowl and College Heights) for 25-minute games on Friday nights at Masich Place Stadium.
“The kids are doing really well, picking up the game fast, and it’s really cool too see after the year we’ve had,” said Bellamy. “The numbers are about where we expected based on how all the COVID health restrictions were going so it’s been a good Year 1 for us.”
The existing Heather Road fields will need to be either seeded or sodded to be ready for football and Bellamy hopes that can be accomplished this summer so they are ready for next year.
“One will be ready to go a little faster than the other ones and the hope for it is it will be a multisport facility for everybody to access in the Hart,” said Bellamy. “The smaller fields will give the ability for youth soccer, kids' rugby, field lacrosse, stuff like that, to access these fields.
“We lost Kelly Road field during construction when they built the new school in the old field so all these school sports have been displaced to the Austin Road school district storage facility. It might still be another year or two years till there’s a field over there. Because of where it’s situated, you’ve got houses there and it becomes a less-likely avenue to light that facility. When Duchess Park put in their new field the people surrounding it didn’t want lights on it.”
The Kodiaks have also worked out a strategic partnership with the Hart Community Centre to utilize office and storage space in the building at the corner of Austin Road and Heather Road. The centre’s primary use will remain as a community hall for weddings, parties, dance, grad ceremonies and craft fairs and it also hosts yoga, zumba, fitness and dance classes. The centre’s management staff will continue to look for new services to bring to the Hart community with the centre as a gathering place.
Last week, former CFL all-star defensive back Keon Raymond was introduced as the Kodiaks’ director of football operations. Raymond is due to arrive in late-July with his family to fill the full-time position promoting high school and community football in the region. Bellamy says the announcement last Friday of Raymond’s hiring has created a buzz in the city.
“It’s huge, it’s getting a lot of interest,” said Bellamy. “Bringing a guy of that calibre to town can’t do anything but help grow the sport here. As well, we’ll have a person that’s here full-time, working on helping us find the best program path and safer ways to approach what we’ve been doing and developing coaching and player-development models as well as allowing the sport to expand into other communities.
“In the past, we’ve had people in other communities who are interested but when you have volunteer people working their other 40 hours a week it’s tough to then go to another community to help them build their programs. We’ll have a guy who’s here full-time and when those opportunities come he can go to outlying areas to help them set up football programs, go run some camps with them, and do some instructing to help new parents and coaches.”