Members of the Frank Hurt Hornets football team are still in high school, but they've already signed their first contract.
Representing your school is a privilege, and Hornets coach Duane Linnen, a U.S. Navy veteran, insists the Hornets must follow a strict code of conduct.
At the beginning of the season, each player signs a contract promising he will live up to the team's standards of behaviour. Under the terms of the contract each player must:. Maintain a 70 per cent average in every class.
Attend study hall every Monday.
Respect themselves, the coaches, the managers, their teammates and their opponents.
Attend all practises. If a player misses two practises in a week, he won't play.
Contribute to the team. Injured players still attend practises and help out by setting up equipment and fetching water bottles.
"I have my rules and everybody has to abide by them," Linnen said. "I'm old school and I don't care if you are the star player - if you break my rules, you don't play in the next game. Discipline is very important because these are teenaged boys. The kids respond well to the discipline and I find parents are really thankful for the team discipline rules because they can see a difference in the way the kids behave when they get home."
The 2013 season is shaping up as a season of change for the Hornets. After four years of wandering in the wilderness, the Hornets are back where they belong among the ranks of class AA football teams. In Frank Hurt's last AA season (2009), the Hornets went winless and interest in the sport hit an all-time low. The following year, Frank Hurt dropped down to the weaker Tier 2 level where they won a championship.
Despite the banner campaign, the team still had trouble attracting players and the Hornets remained in the lower division for another two seasons.
Last year the Hornets won another Tier 2 crown and this time, Linnen and his swarm determined they were ready to return to the AA ranks.
Linnen said rival coaches and armchair quarterbacks groused that the Hornets were sandbagging in an effort to win championships against inferior competition. What those critics fail to grasp is the challenges faced by an inner city school in Surrey.
"What those people don't understand is we don't have a Grade 8 or a jayvee team so I never know what my numbers are going to be like each year," Linnen said. "If I knew I was going to have 35 kids guaranteed, then sure, I would have moved up. The problem is I don't know - I just pray that I have 20 to 25 kids.
"I don't believe in padding other teams' stats with 15 kids who are getting killed every week. Kids aren't going to join a team when that's what they can expect every week and it's also a safety issue."
Instead, Linnen and rest of the coaching staff have worked for three years to build the team back up. Finding coaches available to attend practises after school is an ongoing challenge, but several former players have stepped up to help out.
Players are another issue. Good football players used to transfer to other schools to play the game and Linnen ended up relying on players to recruit their buddies to join the team. Now kids are transferring into Frank Hurt to play high school football.
Linnen added a strong relationship with the North Surrey Minor Football program has helped keep the Hornets stocked with experienced talent.
Now that they are back in class AA, the Hornets are enjoying some perks from the move. While competing in Tier 2, the team had to play all over the Lower Mainland, Sunshine Coast and, frequently, Vancouver Island. That meant several times each year Frank Hurt had to make a two-day trek to Campbell River and Victoria, a journey that included busses, ferries, food and lodging that ultimately cost upward of $2,000 per game.
As a member of the AA Southern Conference, road expenses have been trimmed noticeably. The Hornets have one game this year in Parksville and after that, the next longest road trip will be to Tsawwassen.
Best of all, the Hornets can now can build local rivalries. Frank Hurt will host Seaquam on Oct. 11 and play at Holy Cross on Nov. 2. "Our biggest rivalry last year was in Squamish, but that's a long way to go," said lineman Connor Barron, who is now in his fourth season with the Hornets. "Now we get to play teams like South Delta and Seaquam and Holy Cross - teams that are only a 10-or 15-minute bus ride away.
"After three years of playing in Tier 2, I feel like we deserve this now. We're excited as a team to be able to play these teams and prove that we belong in double A and are not just a development team that gets kicked around all the time."
© Copyright 2013