St. Martin de Porres High School doesn’t have its own football team, but that doesn’t mean the school isn’t represented on the gridiron every fall.
For the last decade-plus, Airdrie’s Catholic high school has had an athlete-sharing arrangement with Bishop McNally High School in northeast Calgary, sending a crop of eager student-athletes to play for the Timberwolves every football season.
Stacey Hart, the head coach of the Bishop McNally football team and the school's athletics coordinator, said it “means a lot” for the St. Martin de Porres athletes to have the opportunity to play high-school football.
“The kids in Grade 10 are maybe a little nervous because they’re wondering if they’ll be viewed as outsiders because they’re not from the school, but they quickly find out we’re a family,” he said. “We don’t differentiate between Martin de Porres or Bishop McNally. It’s just the football team. The chance for them to play, they soak it up, for sure.”
While Hart couldn’t say for sure how long the arrangement between the two schools has been in effect, he added he’s been at Bishop McNally since 2016, and the partnership has been in place since before then. He said a similar agreement is established between the two CCSD schools for other high-school sports as well, including girls' rugby.
This year, 10 St. Martin de Porres students are playing for the Bishop McNally football team, including many of the players on the Timberwolves o-line. Hart said the entire right-hand side of the team’s starting o-line is comprised of players from Airdrie.
“They’re super dedicated, super polite, eager, and wanting to learn,” he said. “They really want to play sports, play football, and it’s a pleasure to have them.
“They show even more commitment than our guys do, because they’re riding a bus for 45 minutes a day to and from the school – they really want to be here.”
Two of the St. Martin students Hart alludes to are Keryan Smith and Rhett Melnychuk. Both are Grade 11 wide-receivers, playing their second season of football for the Timberwolves.
Smith said even though St. Martin de Porres isn’t big enough to house its own football program, it’s been a privilege to don the pads for Bishop McNally these last two years.
“Football is such an amazing sport,” the 16-year-old said. “I thank all of our coaches for the opportunity to even get us out there because our high school isn’t big enough. It’s so much fun out there every day, playing with amazing teammates. The brotherhood that [builds] within football is amazing.”
Smith noted there hasn’t been any issue establishing chemistry or assimilating with the Bishop McNally athletes this fall, adding in the dressing room, all Timberwolves players are considered equal.
“The school difference really doesn’t play a role with anything in the locker room,” he said. “We all integrate and get along so well. It’s such an inviting school and an inviting group of people.
“Even the bigger Grade 12 guys were super helpful. They all speak to you and try to give you tips.”
The Timberwolves play in Division 2 of the Calgary Senior High School Athletic Association. As of writing, Bishop McNally is 1-1 on the season, having beaten Bishop O’Byrne and lost to William Aberhart thus far. The team’s next game is against Winston Churchill on Sept. 28.
Melnychuk said based on the Timberwolves’ performances thus far, he expects the team to be competitive and challenge for the Division 2 title this fall. The 16-year-old receiver noted Bishop McNally’s sole defeat was against the top-ranked team in the division.
“Looking at the opponent we lost to, if that’s the best team in the division, I think we have a really good chance of getting a banner,” he said.
Melnychuk concluded by saying he wanted to thank St. Martin de Porres High School teacher and coach Shaun Potvin for driving the 10 Airdrie players to and from Bishop McNally’s practices during the school week.
“If he didn’t, we wouldn’t be able to play football,” he said. “We have a small bus that he takes us to and from practices [with].”