Darren Abel could not have scripted his final game as a high school coach any better.
Abel, a football consultant on the Weyburn Eagles’ coaching staff, is preparing for Saturday’s Saskatchewan High Schools Athletic Association 5A 12-a-side championship game against the Saskatoon Aden Bowman Bears. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m., at Darold Kot Field — which is named in honour of Abel’s late uncle.
Kot’s time as the Eagles’ head coach included the three seasons (1981, 1982 and 1983) in which Abel was a standout with the team as a running back, receiver, defensive back and punter.
Like Kot, Abel enjoyed a long and successful tenure as the Eagles’ field boss. He headed the program from 1995 to 2019 before transitioning to an assistant’s role when Jody Kerr took over as head coach and carried on its tradition of success.
Under Kerr, the Eagles have earned a berth in a third consecutive provincial final. Weyburn is a member of the South Rural Football League, which also includes the Moose Jaw Central Cyclones, Moose Jaw Peacock Toilers, Yorkton Regional Raiders, Swift Current Colts and Estevan Elecs.
Weyburn won the school’s second SHSAA football title in 2021 — 14 years after Abel guided the Eagles to a landmark championship.
Now he would like to conclude his high school coaching career by helping Weyburn celebrate a hat trick.
“Win or lose, my last game is going to be very bittersweet,” says Abel, 57. “Although I’m walking away from it, I’m walking away with a lot of great memories and friendships.”
“Winning our school’s first provincial title in 2007, with Darold Kot in attendance,” Abel recalls. “Darold was battling cancer, so it was great to see him enjoy that moment.”
Abel also cherishes his recollections of Nov. 21, 2013, when two former Eagles offensive linemen — Brendon LaBatte and Brett Jones — were called to the podium at the CFL’s awards presentations in Regina.
LaBatte, who played for the Saskatchewan Roughriders from 2012 to 2019, was named the CFL’s top offensive lineman in 2013.
Jones, then of the Calgary Stampeders, was recognized as the league’s top rookie.
“What a proud moment for football in Weyburn,” Abel marvels. “And then we watched Brendon win the Grey Cup the following Sunday. You can’t beat it!”
Especially when you consider that Abel is a long-time Roughriders fan.
When he first purchased a season ticket, he was a defensive back with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies, for whom he played from 1984 to 1987.
After graduating from the U of S, Abel spent a year teaching in Windthorst — where he also coached flag football — before moving to Estevan Comprehensive School.
ECS did not have a football program at the time, so Abel coached senior boys basketball. In fact, the Elecs had never competed at Hoopla until Abel guided them to the SHSAA’s basketball championship tournament in 1994.
The following year, Abel debuted as the Eagles’ head football coach.
While Weyburn was a member of the Regina Intercollegiate Football League, Abel helped the Eagles win four consecutive Stewart Conference championships (2006 to 2009).
In 2015, Abel received the Murray Sawa Award, which is presented on an annual basis by the Prairie Football Conference’s Regina Thunder to someone who has made exemplary contributions to the sport at the developmental level.
Most recently, Football Saskatchewan and the Saskatchewan Roughrider Foundation honoured Abel with a Rider Recognition Award, acknowledging his contributions to amateur football in Saskatchewan.
“I’d like to give a big thanks to all the athletes I coached and all the coaches I had the pleasure of coaching with over the years,” says Abel, who is to conclude a 35-year teaching career in June.
“To be a good head coach, you need to surround yourself with good people, and I was lucky enough to surround myself with great people who were passionate about football, great teachers of the game, and builders of character in our athletes.”
The gratitude extends to another great teacher. Abel’s wife, Jodi, works with students at Legacy Park Elementary School in Weyburn.
Darren and Jodi are the proud parents of two daughters — Tatum and Piper.
After all these years, the Eagles are essentially a part of the family, so Abel will continue to support the team beyond the 2023-24 academic year.
“Next season,” he says with a chuckle, “I’ll be in the stands.”
Five SHSAA football champions are to be declared on Saturday.
The Weyburn-Aden Bowman game aside, the schedule is as follows:
1A six-a-side: Hafford Vikings at North Valley Eagles, 1 p.m., Lemberg.
2A six-a-side: Watrous Wildcats at Clavet Cougars, 1 p.m.
4A nine-a-side: Shaunavon Shadows at Lumsden Devils, 1 p.m.
6A 12-a-side: Miller Marauders (Regina) vs. Holy Cross Crusaders (Saskatoon), 1 p.m., SMF Field, Saskatoon.