Forest Hill football gets back to basics

Ron Singer gives instructions to his Forest Hill Falcons. The volunteer coach is bringing back senior football to the Toronto school this season. Photo by Rory Barrs (foresthill550)

Ron Singer faces an uphill battle as the head football coach with the revived Forest Hill Falcons seniors this season, but welcomes the challenge with open arms.

As the 2011 campaign gets under way, the volunteer is working with a crew of varying experience. 

Singer, a local resident and former Forest Hill student, was commanding his troops through an early-season workout on Monday, getting a feel for his squad’s talent and hammering home the fundamentals.

“I think we’ve got some dedication, leadership and chemistry,” said Singer, who’s reviving a program that failed to field a senior team in 2010 due to lack of participation. “I am cautiously optimistic that we can do well.”

The school itself, located near the intersection of Bathurst Street and Eglinton Avenue West, is a relatively small one, with roughly 900 students and a high academic reputation.

While Singer isn’t one to make excuses, he does remain cognizant of the institution’s limited talent pool, and overall inexperience compared to some of the cities more recognizable football powerhouses.

“We’ll have a small squad, because we don’t have a lot of big players,” said Singer, who played and coached in the Canadian university ranks. “We’ll have to pay attention to detail and have perfect technique.”

Three decades away

For three decades, the students at Forest Hill were without a football program altogether, until Singer, a financial advisor, approached the school’s superiors five years ago with the intent of bringing the football program back to life.

Building a reputable program from scratch is no easy task, but since revitalizing the junior- and senior-boys teams, Singer’s troops are yet to miss out on post-season play.

Brett Stein, 16, will lead the Falcons from the quarterback position, after having done so with the junior team the past two seasons.

The Grade 11 pivot, with six years of organized football, echoes his coach’s optimism.

“We’re playing in Tier 2 this year, and I think we’re going to be very competitive,” said Stein, a diminutive, but poised field-general. “I think with me running the office, and working a short passing game, we can march up the field on really any team.”

Stein, who has high hopes of playing Canadian university ball, has witnessed a renewed enthusiasm among his classmates for a game that just a year ago had been collectively put on the backburner.

“Last year there was a lack in numbers and motivation, and there was just really no point in having a team,” Stein said, following after-school practice. “Players want to play more because they think we have a much-better chance this season.”

Lacking an abundance of student-athletes, the Falcons operate with a take-what-we-can-get mentality when it comes to filling out the roster. In fact, Stein was the only party even interested in taking snaps for the senior team this season — a detail that he shyly admits.

Although scheduling will not be released for another week, this Friday the team will take part in the First Annual Downsview Football Scrimmage Jamboree: an all-day event, featuring instructional inter-school scrimmages for second- and third-tier teams.

While it remains an exhausted sporting cliché, winning is clearly not everything to coach Singer.

Still, maintaining order and discipline throughout his quick-hour practice, the former University of Guelph defensive back kept a light tone, and never went more than a few minutes without sprinkling a touch of humour into his message.

Singer seems mostly about bettering his players on and off the field.

“With football at Forest Hill, we’re doing two things,” Singer said, “We’re not only coaching football, we’re teaching life lessons.”