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Billings kicks off football program

Kahnawa’kehró:non Onwenteshon Deer, left, and Jordan Delisle, right, will be playing in the Howard S. Billings football program’s inaugural season under the leadership of head coach Luc Pelland, middle. Marcus Bankuti The Eastern Door

Today Luc Pelland is a math and science teacher at Howard S. Billings High School in Chateauguay, but it was not always evident he was going to dedicate his life to education.

“I was the classic C-student whose every report card said not working to potential,” he said.

That changed when an adult sat him down and said to pay attention to the player introductions before professional football games.

“What do they always say? University of,” he was told.

It dawned on him that pursuing football, his passion, meant he had to take school seriously. Once he started applying himself, his success snowballed, and he soon found himself at Concordia University, where he continued to achieve good grades while playing football at a high competitive level.

Knowing the power of student athletics, he spent 15 years advocating for a football team at Billings, an idea that is finally coming to fruition. The last time the school had a football team was around 50 years ago.

“I couldn’t believe it,” said Pelland, who will serve as the team’s head coach. “I look in the room now, I see the helmets, I see the footballs, I see the jerseys. I go, yeah, okay, it’s real. It’s here.”

Pelland is hoping to use the program as an opportunity to help keep the school’s students on the right track. Study halls are one tool he will use to help players succeed. He will also make sure to stay in the loop with their teachers to ensure students are keeping up with their classes.

“I think we’ll judge our success by our graduation rates,” said Pelland. “Our goal is 100 percent. If you play football for us, you’re graduating.”

Since the team is new, many of its players don’t have any experience on the field, although some have played on the Chateauguay Raiders.

“Some of these guys didn’t even know how to tie a football helmet,” said Pelland.

“By the end of next year, they’ll be seasoned vets.”

The team – the Howard S. Billings Blazers – will play in Division 3 Monteregie. Players will return to training camp on August 14 in preparation for their first game, which will take place September 1. The Blazers already boast three Kahnawa’kehró:non: Pryce Stacey, Jordan Delisle, and Onwenteshon Deer.

“I watched a bit of football on TV, and I just thought it’d be fun to do in my spare time,” said Deer, a grade 10 student at the school.

He played some hockey and baseball when he was younger, but he lost interest. However, he’s finding his stride with football – he will most likely be a linebacker.

“I’m just looking forward to getting better, improving myself at the game,” he said.

He’s also enjoying the social aspect.

“It’s nice to get to know people, new people that I haven’t talked to, didn’t get the chance to talk to,” said Deer.

“I think it’s really cool that the football team’s getting a lot of support, especially from the school, so it can do well and promote itself.”

The school is already mobilizing around the club, with the prefects – student leaders – planning a pep rally for the first match. The kitchen brigade at Billings has also said they will help with the canteen.

“Especially now that it’s coming back for the first year in a good while, I like that a lot of people are trying to help with bringing it back,” said Delisle, also a grade 10 student who didn’t have much experience coming into the spring training camp.

“I really liked it,” he said. “I got to know the basics a lot.” 

Delisle is slated to be a defensive back.

“They’re working hard. I’m looking forward to seeing them progress,” said Pelland of Deer and Delisle.

“You can be a nice guy, but when you step on a football field, you need a little bit of an edge. Straddle that line a little bit,” he said. “They both have a little bit of that.”

Like Deer, Delisle has enjoyed the chance to get to know some new people, and they are looking forward to helping define the program’s culture, possibly for years to come.

“We’re the only Indigenous people on the team,” said Delisle of the Kahnawake trio, “so it’s cool that we get to do a little representation for the community.”

According to Pelland, Kahnawake Survival School (KSS) students are eligible to play on the Howard S. Billings team if they wish because KSS doesn’t have a football program. What’s more, since the school day at Billings will finish later than KSS next year, it could give KSS students enough time to make it to practice.

“The same standards would apply to them as to us,” said Pelland. “The school secretary calls up and says, yeah, he got suspended today, well, you’re not playing this weekend.”

Pelland emphasized that he doesn’t want to poach students from KSS, just give them a chance to play football with Billings. While the team has not added any KSS students as of yet, he is hopeful some may express interest once the football team starts to generate some momentum.

If any of the players show signs of slacking off in school – no matter which one they attend – he knows what he’ll do.

“I can’t get mad. I was that kid,” said Pelland. “We try to reach them. I say listen, I was given the same speech.”

This article was originally published in print on Friday, June 16, in issue 32.24 of The Eastern Door.

Marcus Bankuti, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Marcus is an award-winning journalist and managing editor of The Eastern Door, where he has been reporting since 2021 on issues that matter to Kahnawake and Kanesatake. He was previously editor-in-chief of The Link and a contributing editor at Our Canada magazine.

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Marcus is an award-winning journalist and managing editor of The Eastern Door, where he has been reporting since 2021 on issues that matter to Kahnawake and Kanesatake. He was previously editor-in-chief of The Link and a contributing editor at Our Canada magazine.