EMS football hits the road for Alaskan adventure

Peninsula squad to join forces with Richmond counterparts up north

Earl Marriott Secondary players are put through their paces by coaches during spring practice back in June. The team has reconvened this month for a five-day trip to Juneau

When Earl Marriott Secondary head football coach Michael Mackay-Dunn announced to his players the destination of the team’s next big road trip, he admits not everyone was immediately on board.

The mixed reaction was to be expected, however – it’s tough to convince teenage boys that a trip to Alaska is better than, say, somewhere warmer.

“Initially, it was a bit of a tough sell. The kids were like, ‘Alaska? Can’t we go to California or something?’” Mackay-Dunn said, laughing.

It didn’t take long for Mackay-Dunn – who took a previous EMS senior football team to Alaska in 2010, and has been there a handful of other times, too – to convince his charges to get excited about the journey.

“It’s still the U.S., it’s still Friday night football, which is huge up there. This trip is big news in Juneau – everyone’s really excited about it,” Mackay-Dunn said. “It’s going to be great to see the expressions on the kids’ faces when they see the place for the first time.”

The team left Tuesday for Juneau, and will stay up north for five days. In a unique twist, the team will join forces with another Lower Mainland gridiron squad, Richmond’s Hugh Boyd Trojans, who are coached by Bill Haddow, a Peninsula resident himself and a longtime friend of Mackay-Dunn’s.

The two clubs will combine as one for two games, against Juneau-Douglas and Thunder Mountain high schools.

“It’s never been done before,” said Mackay-Dunn, adding that the trip has been discussed ever since Marriott’s last journey north five years ago.

Scheduling was always a problem, he said, because Marriott’s football season begins in the fall and extends into the winter, but Alaska high-school football ends months earlier because of the weather.

Once scheduling logistics were worked out, Mackay-Dunn and Haddow went to work trying to pack as many activities into the five-day trip as they could, in order to give their students a true taste of Alaskan culture. In addition to the two football games, the Lower Mainland visitors – who will stay with host families – will tour glaciers and go whale-watching, among other activities.

“In the four or five days, the schedule is pretty intense,” Mackay-Dunn said. “But it’s going to be really neat for the kids. Most people think they know Juneau because they stopped there on a cruise once, but it’s a completely different place once the cruise ships leave town.

“It’s such a unique place, so interesting.”

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