The Kelvin Clippers came into this football season with a little bit of anger, and finished it off with a little piece of hardware.
The Clippers earned their first football title since 2007 with a 31-28 win over their fiercest rivals, the Grant Park Pirates, in the Free Press Bowl on Nov. 9, making them champions of the Winnipeg High School Football League’s Vidruk Division.
"It means the world to me," said Kelvin defensive back Ryan Ewashko, a Grade 12 student from Fort Garry.
It was a major turnaround for the Clippers, who were winless in the Potter Division a year ago.
"We had a lot of returning players with something to prove," said head coach Jon Romu. "We also had a lot of guys who came up from our JV team that lost in the semis last year."
Despite the forgettable 2011 season, the Clippers came into this year believing they would be one of the better teams in the AA circuit. A close win over Grant Park, the defending Vidruk champions, in exhibition play told them they could compete with anyone.
"We knew if Grant Park was the team to beat, we would be there as well," Romu said.
That game may have even made the Clippers a little overconfident, but Ewashko said that changed in a hurry after a regular season-opening loss in Brandon.
"We were pretty cocky in the beginning," he said. "We thought we’d kill every team, but we were up 11-0 at the half and ended up losing 14-11. That was a wake-up for us."
The Clippers recommitted themselves after that, and went on a five-game winning streak before losing a close game to Grant Park.
That eventually set up a grudge-match Free Press Bowl between two teams that aren’t shy about their distaste for one another.
"Everyone knows everyone and we hate each other," Ewashko said. "Trash talk on Twitter and Facebook are such a big part of the game now, so it feels good to drive by their school knowing we beat those guys. We wouldn’t want it any other way."
The Clippers, and their school, weren’t thinking much about football in the week leading up to the championship game. Kelvin student Julia Romanow was killed on Nov. 2 in a car accident that injured four other students.
"The kids were sombre, still grieving," Romu said. "They decided to put decals (in memory of Romanow) on their helmets. It was something they needed to do."
Hundreds of students, teachers, parents and alumni attended the game, using it as an opportunity to come together as a school community.
"If winning this game can bring a little bit of help to the school, a little spirit to the building, it’s a good thing," Romu said.