You don’t usually need a passport for “AWAY” games, but last week the varsity players of St. Thomas More (STM) Catholic Secondary School of Hamilton, Ontario did, as they loaded up to drive 5.5 hours for a memorable international experience in Jenison.
The STM football program tries to come to the midwest for a game at least once per year. They are one of the most prominent and highly decorated football teams in Ontario and Canada. They are also repeat Provincial Bowl Champions from 2015-2018. JHS Athletic Director, Tim Ritsema knew they would be a good competitor for us to start the season with and it was exciting to get the chance to host them.
The football players weren’t the only ones hard at work preparing to show our northern neighbors the spirit of west Michigan.
Leading up to the 7:00 kick off, the David McKenzie stadium took a moment to be silent in memory of Jenison student, Sydney Carfine who passed away following a car accident earlier this summer. She was a cheerful person and beloved friend who would have been a senior this year.
Jenison Boy Scout Troop 354 presented the flags as both countries were honored with their anthem. Karen Ambs, recently retired Jenison elementary choir and music teacher, pulled together a group of volunteer singers to welcome our guests with live vocals singing ‘O Canada’. This group, appropriately named the CatPack Chorale, was made up of Jenison Alums, parents, community members, current students and even included two of our own varsity football players!
Game nights look a little different for them at home so we were honored to treat the STM players to a fabulous “Friday Night Lights” experience – great crowd, awesome atmosphere, and stellar performances by the marching band for our national anthem and their half time show. Jenison Varsity Coach Rob Zeitman and AD Tim Ritsema agreed – a win would have been nice but the exposure our students receive in welcoming this team is a valuable interaction. Following the game, the teams shared a pizza party and came together to share little bit about their high school and football experiences.
The stadium atmosphere wasn’t the only thing that was different about this game for our opponents. There are different game rules in the United States versus Canada. In Canada, it’s three downs to get a first down. They play with a longer and wider field; they also play with 12 players on the field at a time instead of 11. That obviously didn’t deter them, as they came away with the win that night!
The STM team was also given the opportunity to catch an exciting American collegiate contest on their way home – stopping by East Lansing to see Michigan State beat Western Michigan, 51-17.
Despite a loss for us on the field Friday night, hosting our first international game was a heartwarming WIN and the Jenison community did not disappoint! It was a great experience all around.