NANAIMO — Despite existing as a franchise for only 14 seasons, the Vancouver Island Raiders have already achieved greatness beyond their years.
Further proof of that came last Friday, as it was announced the non-profit junior football franchise based out of Nanaimo was headed into the B.C. Football Hall of Fame.
The entire Raiders organization will be inducted at a ceremony on Nov. 3, becoming only the third team ever honoured with the BCFHOF's "special award."
BCFHOF board chair Scott Ackles said it's "pretty amazing" for a franchise only in existence since 2005 to receive the award.
"When you look at the organization holistically, what they've achieved since 2005 is truly outstanding and that's exactly what the special award does: recognize outstanding commitment, dedication and integrity in producing unbelievable football and athletes," Ackles told NanaimoNewsNOW.
He said the original nomination suggested one of the Raiders' national championship winning teams be inducted, which is the typical route the Hall takes.
"As we dug deeper and looked at the organization as a whole, the development and amazing players that have come out of the organization, it was evident we needed to look at this in a broader view than a single team."
The Canadian Junior Football League was, and still is to a large extent, known for the dominance of teams in the Prairie conference. For a B.C. based franchise to have success, let alone prolonged success, at a national level was largely unheard of.
Longtime Raiders president Kabel Atwall said the success of the team "without a doubt" put B.C. football in the conversation on the national stage.
"People couldn't take us for granted. It helped every team bringing kids out to play in this conference because they saw it as a legit conference. It had benefits not just to our team, but all B.C. clubs."
Atwall said he felt the way the team conducted its business both on and off the field went into the Hall of Fame selection.
"Also the success of our alumni. Founder Hadi Abassi instilled in us the value to take care of the kids beyond the game, not just treat them as football players and discard them afterwards. It's all about helping young men grow," Atwall said.
The Raiders came into existence as an expansion franchise in 2005, with a group of roughly 30 players and a handful of coaches breaking off from the Victoria Rebels organization to form a new club under the guidance of Abassi.
One season removed from the move, the Raiders reeled off an undefeated season and captured a Canadian Bowl championship on home turf. That began an historic run of six consecutive B.C. titles and three CJFL championships, the most by any team from B.C.
The BCFHOF's statement on the Raiders' special award said the organization "turned the junior football landscape on its head and created a powerhouse instantly."
Abassi said he was not surprised at how quickly the team gained traction in Nanaimo, saying he knew the community would embrace and support the Raiders.
"This award is for everyone involved from day one. There's too many to name, from players to board members, volunteers, the City of Nanaimo and the fans. This is an incredible honour for all of us to share."
Andrew Harris, who just played his 150th career CFL game and is the Raiders' most famous alumni, said the harbour city's team was crucial in helping shape him into a professional athlete and a man.
"The positive environment, brotherhood and success on the field has helped and continues to influence junior football in Canada," Harris said.
You can see all of the 2018 inductees and learn more about the BCFHOF here.
On Twitter: @domabassi
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