There was a distinct international flavour to the start of the Hafford Vikings football season this year.
The Vikings, who play the six-man variant that is common to smaller-enrollment schools in North America, kicked off their 2018 campaign with a trip to the United States.
The trip was to Meeteetse, Wyo. to play the Meeteetse Longhorns in a six-man “non-conference” matchup.
The game took place Saturday, Sept. 1, and it was a close contest throughout, with the high scoring that six-man football is known for. The Vikings eventually built up a nine-point lead, but needed to hold off a late Longhorns rally to finally prevail, 50-47.
It is not the first time that Hafford Central School has been involved in cross-border football. Hafford previously hosted the annual Can-Am Bowl between Canada and the United States in the summer of 2016.
The Meeteetse head coach Matt Jensen was an assistant coach for Team USA at that game. He spoke with Hafford coach Ryan Barnstable, who coached Team Canada, about the idea of the Hafford team coming down to Wyoming for a game.
“The Meeteetse coach said ‘if you ever want to come and bring your team, you can,’” said Vanessa Horner, who acts as the team’s manager and who also has two boys playing for the team.
“Finally, this year, we decided we were going to go, and so we did some fundraising and our trip for the boys was all paid for.”
Horner had the task of looking after everyone’s passports and making sure all the details of the trip were taken care of, so the coaches and team could concentrate on the game preparations.
The team left Hafford early in the morning on a chartered bus on Aug. 29, and arrived about 10 p.m.
Horner said their team was welcomed with open arms by the Meeteetse community.
“The head coach for Meeteetse, Matt Jensen, had everything organized for us. The whole community came together for us, they treated us so well.”
The Vikings team members were billeted locally in a couple of locations in the Meeteetse area. As well, church and community groups there pitched in to provide meals for the team.
It was a full week for the 20 or so players and the rest of the coaches and staff. In addition to the senior Vikings, three junior Vikings from Grade 8 made the trip.
One thing that stood out for those on the trip was seeing the facilities in Meeteetse. The community consists of a little over 300 people, located south of Cody, yet the facilities at that K-12 school, including the gym and the weight room, were top notch.
“Our jaws were dropping,” Horner recalls.
The two teams from Hafford and Meeteetse went to a number of joint functions. The first night they took in a senior girls’ volleyball game in a nearby town, and they both travelled to Yellowstone National Park Aug. 31.
“It was just a blast, and these boys became friends and they had fun,” Horner recalls.
The night ended with a trip to Cody to see an 11-man Friday-night high school game there. It was exactly what you would expect an American high school football game to be, Horner said.
“They had the band, they had the cheerleaders, and the whole town came out,” she said.
The high point, of course, was game day on Saturday under the lights in Meeteetse.
Because it was Labour Day weekend, a large crowd of people was at the game who were home in Meeteetse for the holiday. A good contingent of parents, grandparents and other family from Hafford also made the trip and were there to cheer the Vikings to victory.
The trip to Wyoming produced lasting memories for everyone involved with both the Hafford and the Meeteetse football teams.
“It was such a great weekend, it was awesome,” said Horner.
While it was an exciting time for the Hafford Vikings, there was also little time for them to rest on their laurels upon returning home to Canada.
The team got back to work for the start of the 1A six-man season later that week. The Vikings’ home opener was Sept. 9 against Plenty. In that game Hafford prevailed 76-20.
Hafford continues their season Thursday on the road in Eatonia.