By Zachary Cormier
It may only be the beginning of March, but the Central Alberta Buccaneers are already busy preparing for the 2016 Alberta Football League season.
The Bucs held their first four indoor practices of the season last month in Red Deer as they began informal training for the new season, which begins on May 28th.
“We’ve had four so far. We were practicing at the Argicentre down at Westerner Park. Really awesome turnouts. We’ve had about 55 guys each time,” said CA Bucs Chairman Todd Lewis of the practices, which began in late January.
Currently the team is holding informal practices only, meaning no pads or helmets for the players. Official outdoor practices begin in April.
“It is still structured and organized,” Lewis said, adding that Head Coach Devon Hand has made sure the practices are running smoothly.
In addition to their preparations on the field, the Bucs have also been fairly active off the field and in the community, especially over the past week as they held their first team blood drive of the year and participated in the Bowl for Kids Sake fundraiser in support of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Lacombe.
“We’re pretty busy with the community stuff, even more so this year. We’re pretty consistent, actually throughout the offseason. Usually one or two events each month, it seemed. So that was awesome,” said Lewis, who added the team’s commitment to community involvement can be a huge benefit for players.
“It’s huge. It’s crucial. Football is the team sport. If one cog in your machine isn’t turning then the entire machine doesn’t function. So it’s essential to have chemistry, to have a bond between teammates.”
According to Lewis, that team closeness is becoming more important to the Buccaneers than ever.
“We have a bunch of players coming from out of Central Alberta. We’ve got guys coming from Eastern Canada and other parts of North America, so quite a few new guys coming in don’t really know anyone just yet, so it’s crucial to get these guys coming to hang out with our core group and integrating them and making them a part of the core group. The opportunity to do that while helping out kids’ camps or donating blood or bowling for Big Brothers Big Sisters, that’s just an added bonus,” he said, adding about 15 new Bucs have joined the club.
“We’re hoping to have a 50-man roster. With that amount of depth, we’re only going to be stronger.”
With the new players, the team will be able to have first and second lines on offense and defense, and be able to play, “What Coach Hand calls three phase football. So be strong on offense and defense, like every team aims to be, but also be really strong and dominant on special teams,” Lewis said.
The Buccaneers will be looking to build off last season, which saw them make it to the AFL semi-final game on the field and being recognized as the Lacombe and District Chamber of Commerce’s Not-For-Profit of the Year and the AFL’s Organization of the Year.
“It was pretty awesome. We enjoyed a pretty successful year, so I expect us just to continue building, to get out in the community as much as we possibly can and to give back. It not only helps our community and our home towns but it strengthens us as a whole,” Lewis said, adding that the team is still recruiting players for the new season.
“Any and all that are interested in being a Buccaneer, come check out our practices right now. They’re absolutely free, they’re obligation free at this point. You can come check it out. If you find out it’s not for you, that’s fine, but hopefully you’ll come check it out and you’ll like it and stick around.”
As the season draws closer, the Bucs, who are a not for profit organization, will also kick off their fundraising campaign.
“May 14th we’ve got our biggest fundraiser of the year, which is our Buc Pub Night. It’s our fourth annual one, and that’s being held at Bo’s Bar and Grill,” Lewis said.
The team is now selling tickets for the event, which helps pay for team expenses such as road trip buses, hotels and player insurance. The adult-only evening will also include live music, a silent auction, a 50/50 raffle and is sure to be a ton of fun.
“It’s crucial for our team. Especially in this economic climate we found it’s trickier than ever to track down sponsorship and as a not for profit we’re dependent on fundraisers and sponsorship, so without that sponsorship, as much coming in as we would like, we’re even more dependent on these fundraisers.”
Tickets for the pub night are $20 each and include a free drink and appetizer at the pub. They can be purchased from any CA Bucs player or by commenting on the team’s Facebook page.