School's out early Friday afternoon at Prince George Secondary School and the College Heights Cougars football team and their fans will surely get a sense they won't be the home team when they show up at Masich Place Stadium.
Classes will be dismissed for all 1,200 students at PGSS so they can attend the game and cheer on the Polars when they play the Cougars in the inaugural PGSS Spirit Bowl - the first exhibition game of the season for either team.
"It's not just a football game, it's to develop school spirit and it's also a giveback to the (Prince George) Humane Society," said Polars head coach Pat Bonnett. "They're going to take loonie and toonie donations from students who are having competition in the classrooms to see which class can donate the most."
It's an easy walk for most PGSS students considering the stadium is right next door to the school fields. Not so for College Heights Secondary, which is located in the south end of the city. The school decided it was too much of a hurdle to bus nearly 1,000 students to and from the game.
Seating capacity under the covered grandstand at Masich is about 1,700.
"Hopefully it will be a good turnout for them, our school's not going," said Cougars head coach Grant Erickson. "It's not like CN Centre where you can separate the kids. It's probably not big enough for both schools."
Erickson figures the big crowd cheering for the Polars and against the Cougars will give his players a taste of fan adversity which might help them in years to come if they ever advance beyond high school football.
"We're just going to go in there and try to execute," he said. "Our guys are not used to crowds that big and it will be good experience for them. If they go on to junior or university ball and they have to play an away game, that's what it's like."
Because of the short notice, plans to get cheerleaders and a pep band involved in the game did not materialize and that might happen next year when it becomes College Heights' turn to host the game, Still, Bonnett says players on both teams are going to love the spotlight.
"If you have a 1,000 people in a place that seats 1,700 it's going to look pretty full, it's going to be cool," he said. "We're going to dress the seniors and the juniors so we'll have about 40 players on the field and they'll have about 40.
"We'll primarily play seniors but there will be some juniors that get to play as well. We have probably a dozen kids from Grade 8 and if you put them against Grade 12 kids it would be unfair and dangerous. But they're excited to dress (in their uniforms) and get the recognition of being part of the team."
Last year the Cougars senior squad was predominantly made up of players in Grade 10. Those 20 players have stuck with football and most have three or four years of experience.
"The team that went to the (Northern Conference) semifinals last year were pretty much all Grade 10s and they've moved up to Grade 11 now," said Erickson. "We only have five Grade 12. This year we've expanded our playbook exponentially and I'm challenging them to learn this new offence. This year is kind of learning-curve year and next year we're hoping when these guys are all in Grade 12 we're going to make a run at it."
The Polars have size working for them but lack the experience which led them to the P.G. Bowl Northern Conference title in 2018. PGSS has 21 players on the senior team and 24 who will play on the junior varsity team.
"We were decimated by graduation last year, 11 of 15 seniors graduated so we're rebuilding a little bit," said Bonnett. "I think of the 21 seniors, probably five or six have never played football and their first practice was (Tuesday). Two or three of the seniors are Grade 12s and the rest are Grade 11. They're good athletes, they've played other sports and it's just a matter of learning football."
The Polars and Cougars compete in the five-team Northern Conference, part of the B.C. Secondary School Football Association, with the Kelly Road Roadrunners and Nechako Valley Vikings of Vanderhoof. Each team will play three exhibition games in September and three regular season games before playoffs begin.
Admission to today's game ( 1 p.m. start) is by donation with all proceeds gong to the Humane Society.