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Weyburn Comp coach-teacher retiring, happy to go out on top

History and social sciences teacher Darren Abel, who is also a football coach consultant for the Weyburn Comp Eagles, will be retiring from teaching and coaching.

WEYBURN – History and social sciences teacher Darren Abel, who is also a football coach consultant for the Weyburn Comp Eagles, will be retiring from teaching and coaching at the end of this school year.

With a successful undefeated season for the Eagles that included the 5A provincial championship on home turf, he is happy to be going out on top, seeing the boys win the school’s third provincial title.

Retiring from coaching with him will be assistants Chris Michel and Mike Hoffman. Michel has coached with him for 27 years, while Hoffman has been there for 24 years.

Abel is in his 35th year as a teacher, including 28 years at the school he graduated from in 1984, where he played football for his uncle, Darold Kot.

After spending four years at the University of Saskatchewan, where he played Huskie football for legendary coach Brian Towriss, he began his teaching career in the fall of 1989 teaching at Windthorst, at their small K-12 school.

From there he went to teach at the Estevan Comp for five years, teaching English and math as well as Social Studies. His major at university was in history, so he was happy to get into teaching those subjects at the high school level.

His start in coaching actually came in his internship year when he taught at Holy Rosary High School in Lloydminster. They didn’t have a football program, but they had a vice-principal who was a former Montreal Alouette player, Gary Boechler, and he started up a six-man football program.

At Windthorst, they had a flag football program as they were too small to form a football team, and in Estevan, they didn’t have a football program either, so he ended up coaching basketball, and his teams had a lot of success, ending up at Hoopla two years in a row.

The move to Weyburn came when then-principal Brian Wilson called him and asked Abel to come to WCS as the Comp was losing Brian Lee as their coach. He started in the fall of 1995 and shortly after took on Michel as an assistant, and later Hoffman. In 2004 Jody Kerr joined as a coach and Phys. Ed teacher, and the four of them ran the football program from that point on.

A high point was reached in 2007 when the WCS Eagles won their first provincial championship. At the big game in Moose Jaw, where they took on Moose Jaw Central, his uncle Darold Kot was in the stands to see them win.

“He was battling cancer at the time, so I was very happy he could see our team win that championship before he passed away. That was a big thing for us,” he said.

After 25 years as head coach, Abel decided to hand the reins over to Kerr in 2019, as his son Conner was coming into Grade 9, and Jody had coached him in minor football as well as serving as the head of Weyburn Minor Football for a time.

Unfortunately, COVID hit in 2020 and there was no football that year, but the game was back in 2021, and the Eagles won their second provincial title. Abel noted they came very close to it in 2022 but lost in the final, and then they dominated in this season with an undefeated record, and a No. 1 national ranking for small high schools.

While Abel was no longer head coach, he decided to stay on as a coach consultant, meaning he could fill in wherever he was needed, such as running practices for any coach who couldn’t make it, providing advice and guidance to Kerr and the other coaching staff, and being up in the booth for the football games, giving an observer’s view of plays and players to the coaches down on the sidelines.

“We were the set of eyes for the coordinators and coaches in the last three years, and I believe it made a difference,” said Abel, noting this was a job other coaches didn’t want to do, as they preferred being on the sidelines.

Abel said some other highlights for him as a coach was winning the Regina city championships from 2006 to 2009. He chuckled as he noted the coaches in Regina hated that a Weyburn team came in to beat them four years in a row.

A huge highlight for him came in 2013, as two former WCS players, Brendon LaBatte and Brett Jones, both played in the CFL. Abel and some others from the program went up to the CFL Awards Night and saw LaBatte win as offensive lineman of the year, and Jones won as Rookie of the Year.

“It was great to see two Weyburn kids win major awards, and it was awesome for the school, for the program and the city. It was also great to see Brendon win the Grey Cup with the Roughriders – that was awesome,” said Abel.

To see this year’s team be so dominant on the field, he said, “I couldn’t have asked for a better sendoff than to go out on top.”

Abel commented that Conner Kerr was probably the best quarterback he’s ever had at the Comp, and there have been a few really good ones. In addition, he was “one of the best leaders I’ve ever seen.”

It’s also been very rewarding for him to see people he used to coach come back to help out as coaches, such as Colton Neithercut, Kyle Paterson and Nathan Cugnet.

As he leaves his teaching career behind after June, Abel said, “It’s going to be very different come August.”

As a teacher, he said it was similar in many ways to being a coach, as he was always communicating and talking with the kids about what was going on, not to mention being a teacher has kept him young as he interacts with the students and hears their views on things like current events.

Abel has enjoyed just being a consultant in the last few years too, as he didn’t have the stress and pressure of the head coach’s position, but was there to help out wherever he could.

He will likely do substitute teaching next year, while wife Jodi is a Grade 6 teacher at Legacy Park, and has a number of years to go before she retires.