SACKVILLE, N.B. – The big question – the one often asked as to how a school like Tantramar with its small enrollment can compete successfully against those much larger and endowed with far more natural athletes – has now been answered.
“It’s a matter of unswerving support from all regions – from principal Susan Lafford to the student council and Joyce Anne Boutilier, from parents and the folks of the region to our coaching staffs,” said athletic director Ben Brown. “It is a school spirit than can only be developed in a small school in a small community as really a close-knit family.”
Brown stressed during a recent interview that few places can generate the type of public support and the willingness of volunteers to pitch in that is found here.
With an enrollment of just 440 students, roughly split 50-50, the teams brought three New Brunswick high school championships during the 2017-18 academic year. This, he said, would have been impossible without all hands being on-side and making valuable contributions.
We all know that Nev Garrity and his ladies’ soccer team and Ernie Austin and the men’s hockey team brought home banners after a 21-year absence for both. And who will ever forget the euphoria that erupted last fall when Scott O’Neal led the football team to its third straight NBIAA title.
Perhaps the latter was extremely significant since they compete in AAA against such huge education centres with winning traditions such as Fredericton, Saint John, Moncton and Riverview.
And for this they have also survived the slings and arrows of some competitors, with three clear bills of health, including the last when a learned group of football people reported their findings, which included the fact the Titans have been performing at a level above the others and do it well within the rules of the game.
Brown assumed his role of being responsible for the varsity programs last year and said the work of predecessor David Hicks made his new duties relatively easy.
“David, who had taken over from Trent Mann, left the athletic program in great shape,” said Brown. “He had outstanding coaches in place for all teams and they were also in good shape financially – thanks in large part due to the hard work on fundraisers by the student council and volunteers.”
So what does Brown expect for the coming academic year?
Well, first of all, nearly all the teams will have the same coaching staffs returning, he said, noting many of them are volunteers from outside the school. And with a winning spirit developed he is confident that not only the trio of champions will be strong but also the two basketball teams, which showed definite signs of being on the verge last season.
In looking at the fall sports lineup, the director of athletics announced O’Neal is back with a strong staff of six assistants for football, Garrity will begin his umpteenth year as head of women’s soccer, while Matt Wheaton has taken on both the men’s soccer and the cross-country teams.
As further indication of the interest in sport at Tantramar, an effort is underway to field a JV soccer team while the school has a full menu throughout the year.
The minor sports programs provide the lifeblood for the varsity teams, with successful minor systems churning away in basketball, soccer, football and hockey. In most cases those who enter high school have a solid grounding in their sport.
Brown, who doubles as an assistant football coach, feels this year’s squad has a number of areas to clean up if they are to enjoy success in the strong seven-team league, but believes the talent is there. Every game will be a battle unlike last season when the Titans crushed the opposition on several occasions.
Following the opening weekend, he was surprised that teams from Riverview, Moncton and Tantramar totally dominated those from the western section by decisive scores and predicts future matches will be far more competitive.
In the meantime, local athletes will enjoy unmatched support from parents, fans and schoolmates – something that is a bit of a rarity these days when there are so many alternatives.