November 24, 2022

Alberta Bowl: Panthers seize opportunity in new division

For just the second year, the Larry Wilson Division championship game is part of the Alberta Bowl, and the Spruce Grove Panthers hope it results in their first Alberta Schools Athletic Association (ASAA) title.

Spruce Grove and the All Saints Legends meet on Saturday (2:30 p.m.) during Day 2 of Alberta Bowl 2022 at Shouldice Park in Calgary, looking to become champs of the Larry Wilson Division. Spruce Grove is coming off a 36-8 victory over the Bev Facey Falcons in the North Championship game of the Larry Wilson Division, last Saturday (Nov. 19) at Emerald Hills Stadium in Sherwood Park.

Last year the Larry Wilson Division and Brian Fryer Division were established as provincial playoff competitions for teams representing schools at the Tier 1 (student enrolment of 1,250 and up) level. While the Brian Fryer Division features the province’s highest ranked Tier 1 teams competing for the top prize in Alberta high school football, the Larry Wilson Division allows for greater regional representation by including teams from all reaches of the province that were not selected for the Brian Fryer Division field.

In just one year, the Larry Wilson Division has already proven a launching pad for the victor: In 2021 at Commonwealth Stadium, the Raymond Comets defeated the Ross Sheppard Thunderbirds in the division’s inaugural championship game; this year, Raymond has advanced to the Brian Fryer championship game and will take on the Harry Ainlay Titans for the provincial crown Saturday night at Shouldice Park. 

“I think it’s a nice opportunity for some of the other teams that are not quite at the top yet and have limitations on who they can bring in to play for them,” says Spruce Grove coach Brian Yakimchuk.

“Being in a smaller community away from the city and playing against the big city teams, it’s a little tough because kids don’t necessarily travel out of the city to come to our school. We’re a community-based team, and everybody that’s playing for us has for the most part been born and raised in our area.”

The Panthers epitomize the spirit of the Larry Wilson Division. They proudly represent Spruce Grove, where football is integral to a close-knit community.

“We get a lot of the support from the minor teams, they like to come out and watch us play,” Yakimchuk says. “A lot of them end up playing for us when they’re finished their minor career out of bantam. They all have an interest in us, and we do what we can to help them whenever we can, so it’s a nice relationship with them that way.”

Return to the Alberta Bowl

After losing 37-8 to Notre Dame in the 2012 ASAA Tier 1 championship final, Spruce Grove’s senior football team is making its second trip to Alberta Bowl, a tremendous accomplishment for the Panthers.

“It’s definitely nice for the program and for the athletes involved,” Yakimchuk says. “Right now we’re trying not to focus on the scope of the game as much as we’re trying to focus on the game for what it is. It’s an opportunity for us to play in a meaningful game against a team from a totally different part of the province where the styles of play might be different.”


Spruce Grove has not previously played the Legends, who have only been competing in varsity football since 2018 when All Saints first opened. The Legends are making their Alberta Bowl debut, after defeating the Cochrane Cobras 21-20 in the Larry Wilson South Championship game last Saturday (Nov. 19).

“It will be interesting for us to play a team we know very little about personnel wise, system-wise, and tendency-wise,” says Yakimchuk.

“They look to have a very balanced attack: they throw the ball as well as they run the ball and they don’t seem to have a lot of holes. They did very well in a really strong Calgary division, so we’re expecting a tough go.”