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13th Man

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As a new resident of Kelowna back in 1991, I attended my first Okanagan Sun game against rival Surrey Rams. For someone who attended junior football games on the prairies in the past it was an impressive site. There were a lot more fans than I was used to seeing at a junior game...and they got pretty loud. The first thing I noticed was during the pre-game introductions, not just the cheers for the hometown Sun...but the boos that were heard for Rams coach Nick Kawaza.

It reminded me of Blue Bomber games when I was a kid and Dave "Dr. Death" Fennell of the Eskimos had the Winnipeg crowd on his back. At the time I could only think that this Kawaza guy must have done something to infuriate the crowd in the past, was he the devil incarnate? No, he's a pretty good guy actually, he just happened to coach the Rams to the provincial title the year before, ending a 4 year run for the Sun as BC champs. Nick was also known to argue the odd officials call along the way, not unlike many coaches do. Nick though, often did it while standing well on the field of play, which of course draws the attention of the crowd! On this day he was doing that again, looking back now I think Nick was enjoying the the boos from the Apple Bowl faithful while he "questioned the referees wisdom" about a particular call. You couldn't hear the person talking next to you the boos were so loud while he attempted to make his case with the officals. Every junior football team should play in front of this type of crowd I thought, it was was football!

Years later, the Okanagan fans that fill the Apple Bowl continue to be the envy of the CJFL. From the back parking lot tailgaters to the mega-phones on the east side stands (they are a bit crazy over there) they are the best in the nation and the Sun are fortunate to play in front of them.

A story in the local paper following a double over-time win for the Sun in the 2000 BCFC championship mentioned a fan on the east side who was being attended to by paramedics after experiencing symptoms of a mild heart attack. He refused to leave and the ambulance was kept idling..."I don't want to miss this" he told those around him. (another one of those east side fans, gotta love 'em, but next time....go to the hospital please)

While Sun fans may not boast the sheer number and volume of the NFL team down the I-5 that has also retired a jersey for their fans, ours shouldn't wonder whether they are providing a home field advantage themselves. On more than one ocassion over the years the opposition has voiced displeasure over the loud fans in the Okanagan. As recently as the 2007 BCFC semi-final game with the Victoria Rebels, the visitors asked the referees to silence the horns in the stands! (Don't blow them when the team is abut to snap the ball...we can get a penalty for that!) And as much as you might rattle the visitors, the Sun players feed off the support you give them.

Over the years, the #13 jersey has been worn by several players, from Kevin Booker (1986), Paul St. Pierre (89), Pete McCall (93), Bill Royle (94), Zack Silverman as he led the team to the 2000 national championship, to Dave Frankin (06). Our final player to wear the number is local native Brad Welder who graduates from the club in 2007.

#13 is only the second jersey the Sun have retired, the other being #63 for former CKOV broadcaster Marty Cullen.

We won't see an orange and brown #13 on the field again, but it will always make it's presence felt from the cheap seats!