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May 24, 2018

WHSFL | Rick Henkewich Honoured

Rick Henkewich can see the finish line from here. And truthfully, he’ll be thrilled when he busts through the proverbial tape.

Henkewich’s chest swells with pride when reminiscing about the long distance he’s travelled in a game that has been a part of most of his life. The Winnipeg High School Football League Commissioner is stepping away at the conclusion of the 2018 season after six years in that post, and more than a half century in the game.

To recognize his long service, Henkewich will be one of two coaches for this Saturday’s 18thAnnual WHSFL Senior Bowl at Investors Group Field (2 p.m.; $6 admission at the gate).

The other honoured coach is the late Doug Steeves, who passed away four years ago this Saturday and was instrumental in coaching at all three Brandon area high schools: Vincent Massey, Crocus Plains and Neelin.

“This is such an honour,” began Henkewich. “This is a great way to exit. We’ve done so many things to get this league better and stronger.

“At one point last year there were 18 guys in the CFL who had started in the WHSFL. That’s phenomenal. We’re pretty proud of that.”

 

The Vincent Massey Vikings and Garden City Gophers are the two programs being saluted at the Senior Bowl. Steeves played an instrumental role with the Vikings and Henkewich was there at the beginning of the Gophers.

“Garden City Collegiate is a two-minute walk from my house,” said Henkewich. “They called and said, ‘We’re starting a program.’ It was just after my son had graduated and so I was happy to come in and help with the start-up of a program.”

Henkewich played his high school ball at Tec Voc and then transferred to Sisler. He attended Simon Fraser, but suffered a knee injury. As a coach, he has been involved at Sisler, the Winnipeg Hawkeyes junior team, and the University of Manitoba Bisons, while also serving as a volunteer assistant with the Blue Bombers in the early 1990s as well as a guest coach with the Edmonton Eskimos.

During his days with the Gophers, the program became the first to go from a start-up squad to the AAA division in just three years.

The game itself, meanwhile, represents many things to the over 100 players who will participate. Just ask Dakota Lancers defensive back Andreas Kastellanos.

“It’s really special,” said Kastellanos. “A lot of the guys here have played in this league for three or four years, since Grade 9-10. And so to get all the guys out from across the league, across the province, guys you have played with and against every year, friends and enemies, and mash it all together is pretty cool. It’s a great way to celebrate all the high schools and teams.

“The game is a different experience for every player. For some guys, this is the final game they’ll ever play. For others, this is the beginning of a next step and then there are guys who might get that little bit of extra film from this game that could get them noticed.”

Kastellanos knows where he will be in the fall, having committed to the University of Toronto Varsity Blues on his birthday at the end of March.

“This game is about having fun for me,” he said. “During the regular season it’s all about winning and winning championships. This is a chance to enjoy playing football with the guys. It’s a farewell, it’s a celebration, it’s almost like a graduation.”