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High school football icons honoured

Honorary coaches Petrie, Gustafson join Walters, Miller

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First, he helped build it. And now he's been asked to come back.

Ron Gustafson -- the former commissioner of the Winnipeg High School Football League, who supervised the league's dramatic expansion from 14 to 32 teams -- will be one of two local high school football legends leading the teams out on the field at Investors Group Field Saturday for the annual Senior Bowl.

Gustafson and Bill Petrie -- the first Elmwood high school alumnus inducted into the Winnipeg High School Hall of Fame -- are the honorary guest coaches for today's Senior Bowl, an all-star game for graduating seniors.

Gustafson played his high school football in Duluth, Minn. but is being honoured today as one of the great builders of the local high school game. A commissioner of the WHSFL from 1999-2011, Gustafson oversaw the dramatic expansion of a once-struggling league into the dynamic force it is today.

Gustafson couldn't be reached on Friday, but people who know him were talking -- and in the most glowing of terms.

"The guy really is a legend," said current WHSFL commissioner Rick Henkewich.

Petrie used similar language.

"Ron is an icon in high school football in this city," he said.

Today's honour is just the latest in a long line for Gustafson, who is also a member of the Grant Park and Churchill high school halls of fame, Football Manitoba hall of fame, WHSFL hall of fame and the University of North Dakota hall of fame.

Petrie, meanwhile, is being acknowledged this week for his standout career in the late '60s and early '70s as the starting quarterback for the Elmwood Eskimos. Petrie went on to play for the Winnipeg Rods and University of Manitoba Bisons and said yesterday he's been overwhelmed this week to be honoured for something he did 40 years ago.

"It's really been quite something -- I sure didn't expect all this," said Petrie, 58. "I've always liked the high school game and I continue to go to some of the games. This has really been a great honour."

Petrie and Gustafson will be joined on the sidelines at IGF today by Bombers CEO Wade Miller and GM Kyle Walters, who will coach on opposite sides of the field against each other today.

Walters, quite wisely, took the high road this week when he was asked if he wanted to talk any trash towards his opposing head coach/boss.

"It's all about the kids," Walters laughed. "If you want a trash-talking quote, you should probably talk to the other coach."

The two Senior Bowl teams have been working under Miller and Walters for the last three days in preparation for today's game.

In addition to the Senior Bowl today at 2 p.m., today's games will also include for the first time a Rural 9-Man League All-Star Game that will be a celebration of the specialized game played in rural Manitoba. That game is scheduled for 11 a.m..

Henkewich said tickets have been moving briskly and organizers are hoping for a crowd of at least 2,000 today. Twitter: @PaulWiecek

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 24, 2014 C7

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