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Coquitlam council lends support to SFU football fight

The sudden cancellation of the SFU football program is an “embarrassing decision,” the football coach at Coquitlam’s Centennial Secondary told council today (May 8).

The sudden cancellation of the SFU football program is an “embarrassing decision,” the football coach at Coquitlam’s Centennial Secondary told council today (May 8).

Dino Geremia rallied city council to speak up about the program cut that will affect Centennial and Terry Fox secondary graduates that now make up about one-third of the Red Leafs’ roster.

Two of them, Andrew Lirag (freshman defensive back) and Cameron Keeskotagan (sophomore defensive line), were at Monday’s meeting.

The cancellation on April 4 of the long-standing athletics program came without warning or consultation with the alumni and stakeholder groups, Geremia said, and it also came as the student–athletes were preparing for their final exams at SFU.

“I was shocked…. And it’s probably been worse since the announcement,” he said, claiming SFU’s president and athletic director “have been nowhere to be seen” and have been “fighting the players…. We would not want anyone treated that way.”

Geremia said the loss of the football program translates to a shortage of mentors on the local high school and community fields as alumni often return home to help.

He said a letter from Coquitlam–Maillardville NDP MLA Selina Robinson, who is also B.C.’s minister of post-secondary education, was sent to the university on April 17.

Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart said city council followed up her letter last week.

In it, Stewart writes to Dr. Joy Johnson, president and vice-chancellor of SFU, that Coquitlam has made investments in amateur sport with new and updated facilities.

He pointed out the new artificial turf field at Centennial, as well as the field at Dr. Charles Best — both of which are shared with School District 43. In addition, the city is now planning an artificial turf field at the new Burke Mountain Secondary.

“As such, while we wouldn’t normally comment on the program decisions of a post-secondary institution, we feel that the athletic program at SFU — our local university — are in some ways an extension of the significant investments we’ve made to support amateur sport here in Coquitlam, and to encourage and support higher learning,” Stewart wrote, while also mentioning Burnaby’s similar letter.

Stewart said he’d also like to invite Johnson to speak before Coquitlam City Council to talk about the reasons why the football program was nixed in haste.

The cancellation comes after the Lone Star Conference, the Texas-based league where the Red Leafs began playing in 2021, decided in January not to renew its two-year affiliate contract with the only Canadian school in the NCAA.

SFU joined the league after several schools in its previous league, the Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC), discontinued their programs.

"With the recent announcement that the team will not be invited to continue with Lone Star, we don’t have a conference to play in for 2024," said provost and vice-president academic Wade Parkhouse, in a media statement.

"The ongoing uncertainty creates an unacceptable experience for students."

On Monday (May 8), the Tri-City News reached out to SFU.

Braden McMillan, SFU's director of media relations and public affairs, pointed to an April 20 statement and added, "This has been a very difficult situation and our hearts are with the football student–athletes and staff who have had an incredibly challenging time over the past few weeks."

"Since court proceedings about this issue are underway, we won’t be commenting until after those proceedings are completed."

Empathizing with the student–athletes in the audience, Coun. Brent Asmundson said SFU’s move is “extremely disappointing” and will destroy young men’s futures.

Coun. Craig Hodge, whose son is in a university football program in Ontario, urged Geremia to “keep up the fight.”

“It’s hitting the whole football community,” he said.

Coun. Dennis Marsden called the decision “stupid” as it offers no transparency while Coun. Steve Kim said it’s a “pretty big slap in the face” to student–athletes.

“I can’t help to think about the rug pull that this is. It’s mind blowing to me.”

And Coun. Trish Mandewo chastised the university for giving up on its students.

Geremia said he’s worried about other SFU athletic programs also facing the chop: In March, the university said it would investigate concerns about harassment allegations within its women’s soccer team; the same month, due to a clerical issue, SFU had six swimmers declared ineligible for the nationals when the program was deemed to be not complaint with an NCAA participation bylaw this season.

Geremia alleged there is a worrying “pattern” in the athletic department at SFU.

Meanwhile, the BC Supreme Court is expected to make a decision this week on the fate of the SFU football program. Student–athletes Lirag, Gideone Kremler, Kimo Hiu Ryan Barthleson and Dayton Ingenhagg are suing the post-secondary school.

The Tri-Cities' student-athletes listed on the Red Leafs' current roster include:

  • Kyle Huish, junior defensive back, Terry Fox Secondary
  • Drew Lirag, freshman defensive back, Centennial Secondary
  • Ziad Sabry, freshman running back, Centennial Secondary
  • Jesse Kim, freshman wide receiver, Centennial Secondary
  • Isaiah Cooper, sophomore linebacker, Terry Fox Secondary
  • Alex Gagnon, sophomore linebacker, Terry Fox Secondary
  • Tom Wiggin, freshman linebacker, Terry Fox Secondary
  • Jordan Sye, freshman outside line, Terry Fox Secondary
  • Cameron Keeskotagan, sophomore defensive line, Centennial Secondary

— with a file from Mario Bartel, Tri-City News