Athletics ready for change
It has been a busy off-season for the St. Catharines Athletics.
The A’s, fresh off an Iroquois Cup Ontario championship in August, already have several projects on their plate, not the least of which is putting together a staff for the newly acquired junior B franchise.
The A’s earlier this month acquired the St. Catharines Spartans Junior B Lacrosse Club after longtime coach and general manager Chris Spiers indicated he was stepping away from his duties.
Current junior A’s general manager Jeff Chcoski will oversee both teams, but coaches and other staff still need to be named.
“We have to appoint some coaches and assistants for Jeff very shortly and those discussions are ongoing,” Athletics president Paul Coates said. “Some of the coaches that got involved with the junior A’s this year, we are reaching out to see if there is interest from them.”
Coates feels the arrangement will be beneficial to all.
“That will allow us to be able to evaluate everything,” he said. “We really haven’t played full seasons with the exception of the tournament where the juniors won the provincial championship, so it bodes well that way and it will allow us to control top to bottom.”
The junior B club will also be known as the Athletics and wear the traditional double blue but will still recognize the Spartans with a shoulder patch and barber shop-style double blue cuffs that were prominent on the junior B team’s jerseys.
“It’s going to look really cool but it will have the big A on the front,” Coates said. “At the end of the day when a kid starts out in minor lacrosse and wears double blue, that’s the colour he recognizes coming up through and we want to be able to keep that transition right through until they graduate as 21-year-olds.”
The Engemann family, which began the Spartan organization and ran it for decades before handing the day-to-day duties over to Spiers, was on board with the name and colour change, Coates said.
“Our family has been dedicated to the players and families who have worn Spartans colours for decades,” said Joe (Jojie) Engemann, on behalf of the Spartans club. “We view this step as a transformational change in aligning the junior franchises in St. Catharines.
“This alignment, which would see two junior franchises operated by the same organization, is a significant step forward in ensuring that lacrosse players in St. Catharines represent the double blue of the Athletics starting from their first days in minor lacrosse, right through to their final days of junior.”
Where the A’s and Spartans will play is also up in the air.
Jack Gatecliff Arena, home of the A’s for the past few years after their move from Bill Burgoyne Arena, is set to close by the end of 2021.
Coates said there are a number of facilities being discussed, including Canada Games Park at Brock University, BBA and even Thorold Arena. The Spartans last played at Thorold Arena after years in Merritton. Coates said a move back to Merritton is not an option.
“There was always talk the Canada Games Park wasn’t going to get used until The Games and I think smarter heads prevailed,” Coates said. “We need some leagues and teams in there to do test runs and figure out the bugs before you go and start up a national event.
“It’s an ongoing thing. We are just starting to iron out details and there’s so many moving parts to it.”
Coates indicated he would prefer both the junior A and junior B teams to play out of Canada Games Park, which is air conditioned.
“It makes a million things work easier,” he said. “I know some people say it’s a little bit far but I also know people say they jump on the 406 and the QEW and they are at Brock in eight minutes. Lots of other communities are doing the same thing. You know, 15 or 20 mines to an arena, it’s just part of the process.”
Coates admitted it can become overwhelming at times with so many balls in the air.
“There is some nervousness because there’s a lot involved,” he said. “Obviously, we’ve got to double our fundraising capabilities, scheduling, all those types of things. But it also gives us that control so that when we sit down and do our game schedules for both teams, we’re going to make sure that we that we’re very careful about it. Our intention is to have lots of kids with junior B cards and be able to move them up and down as we see required.”
Coates said the transfer could not have been completed without the hard work of Chcoski and A’s treasurer Todd Zavitz.
“They’ve been instrumental in getting the transfer complete,” Coates said. “It was something we wanted for a long, long time.”
Coates said more volunteers will be needed for both squads to ensure things continues to get done properly.
“It’s a daunting task,” he said. “Have we probably shaken the boots of some of the other organizations in the province? Yes, because I think we’re going to be that much stronger, both A and B teams.”
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