The Winnipeg High School Football League will go retro for its annual Senior Bowl game on Sunday.
In conjunction with its WHSFL Hall of Fame, the two teams of graduating seniors will be named for a Hall of Famer and the teams will play in the colours of their namesake's schools. Game time is noon at Canad Inns Stadium.
The inaugural honorary captains for this year are Paul Robson and Bob Wilkes. Team Robson will wear the cherry and grey of the Kelvin Clippers, and Team Wilkes will play in the purple and gold of the Gordon Bell Panthers.
Robson made a career of football, beginning at Kelvin where he played for the Clippers from 1954-59 and then moved on to the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux from 1959-64.
Upon graduation, Robson stepped into the Winnipeg Blue Bombers lineup where he played from 1964-72. In 1972 he moved into the front office as assistant general manager and then general manager in 1983 until 1986.
Robson addressed the gathering of graduating high school talent Wednesday, by stating that he accepted the honour for one reason.
"I did it because of the coaching I had at Kelvin High School," he said. "Our head coach was a fellow by the name of Bill Balonchuck, who took me under his wing. I don't know what he saw in me, other than a kid who wanted to play hard, but he mentored me through high school.
"I can tell you that my life (at that time) was not headed in the (right) direction, but because I had a coach who cared about me, and wanted to see me do well, I started on a path that ended up where I am today.
"I am doing this because there is an opportunity for you as seniors to go on to better things. The life lessons you learn from this game are really quite significant. It is great to be a champion and have a championship ring. But what lasts forever are the lessons you learn from football. For that reason I am honoured and humbled to have my name associated with high school football in this province and city."
The Gordon Bell Panthers have not been a part of the WHSFL for several years now, but Wilkes was with them in their heyday. He was a two-way starter on the line from 1960-62. In 1967 he returned to Gordon Bell as head coach, winning three of eight championship playoffs. In 1971 his Panthers' defence gave up only 36 points in seven games.
"Working with young kids in football was a passion for me," said Wilkes. "I enjoyed playing very much, the competitive nature of it, and I loved coaching and working with the kids. Now the kids are exposed much more in terms of getting fit, building strength, and skills so they have advanced that much more. They are faster, bigger, and stronger.
Where the league was comprised of seven or eight teams during the years Robson and Wilkes played, it has grown to 33 teams.
"The WHSFL is a very classy league," said Wilkes.
"The high school league, and amateur football in Manitoba, has expanded dramatically," said Robson. "That is the result of a lot of the hard work Ron Gustafson (WHSFL commissioner) has done, and Football Manitoba has done."
Wilkes and Robson will be at Canad Inns Stadium Sunday to cheer their teams on and while both are well past their playing days, the competitiveness is still there.
"There'll be a dinner of some sort on the outcome of Sunday's game," said Robson, hinting that he and Wilkes may put a wager on the verdict. "Somebody is going to have to buy somebody dinner, I'll tell you that."
"I think a wager would be a good idea," said Wilkes.
Senior Bowl rosters on page C15