October 10, 2009

CFL teams give back: Eastern Division

Mitch Ward

Thanksgiving is a time to reflect and give thanks for all of the good things in our lives. Here at the CFL, each of our eight teams is thankful and proud to be a part of the community in which they play. As we here at CFL.ca take time to give thanks this weekend, we want to take a moment to point out some of the many ways our teams give back and show their appreciation for the people who make this league what it is: The Fans. In the first part of our thanksgiving feature we take a look at a few of the exciting community initiatives taken by the four Eastern Division teams.

Montreal Alouettes

Since the spring of 1997 one way the Montreal Alouettes have been able to give back to Montreal and the province of Quebec is by hosting their annual junior football camps. The camps give Alouettes players a chance to put on their coaching hats and work with kids and share their knowledge and passion for football.

The training sessions are aimed at kids 7-17 years old. They are personalized to each player’s ability and age group. The Alouettes use the camps as a way of, “encouraging a healthy lifestyle, as well as promoting the importance of our youth’s well-being and sports.”

This year, the Als hosted camps in the communities of Sherbrooke, Trois Rivieres and Montreal. Participants in the camps were able to learn from the likes of current Alouettes Étienne Boulay, Éric Deslauriers, John Bowman and Paul Lambert as well as Alouettes alumni Uzooma Okeke, André Bolduc, Patrick Dorvélus and Sylvain Girard.

In addition to hosting the camps the Alouettes, thanks to their partnership with Telus, provide ten elementary students in each community with the opportunity to take part in the camps free of charge. This allows kids who may not have otherwise been able to afford to go to a camp the chance to, “meet professional athletes and live unforgettable moments.”

Other Alouettes community initiatives include: CN Adopt an Alouette, the School is Cool Basketball Jam and EnvironmentALS. For more on the Als community programs visit MontrealAlouettes.com

Toronto Argonauts

One of the many ways the Argos give back to the community is through their “Level the Playing Field” initiative. Level the Playing field is a collaboration between the Argonauts, The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) and the Toronto Foundation for Student Success.

In its inaugural season the program, sponsored by Tim Hortons, oversaw football programs return to four local schools which had gone decades without the game. Lester B. Pearson, Eastern Commerce, CW Jefferys and North Albion Collegiate each fielded a football team this fall thanks to this great initiative. Besides providing funding to TDSB schools the program’s goal is to promote school spirit and develop football as a positive after school activity that can help curb youth violence in the communities surrounding each school.
Chris Spence, Director of Education for the TDSB commented, “As a former football player, I can truly say from personal experience that nothing builds esteem, a sense of accomplishment and fosters teamwork like being a member of a football squad.”

Each school was also paired up with their very own Argos player ambassador to visit practices and a game, as well as host a classroom discussion about community and work with the team on a community activity. The four ambassadors for the teams are Jamal Robertson, Willie Pile, Jordan Younger and Jeff Johnson. The new teams were also able to learn coaching tips and techniques from Argonauts General Manager/Vice President, Football Operations Adam Rita and other coaches and football staff members at Argonauts practices and a game.

Argonauts President and CEO Bob Nicholson said, “These high school football players represent the future… Many may meet new friends, while developing their athletic ability and contributing in a positive way to their school and community.”

For more Argonauts community initiatives such as the Huddle up Bullying Prevention Program or Adriano Belli’s Big Kiss fund visit Argonauts.ca

Hamilton Tiger-Cats

One of the most recognizable figures in the CFL is Hamilton’s all-star center Marwan Hage. In 2006, Hage began his Hage’s Heroes initiative. One of the program’s main goals is to help youth enjoy the game of football. At every Ticats home game, Hage and former Ticats great Angelo Mosca host a group of minor football kids who get to watch the game from the exclusive Hage’s Heroes seats. The kids also get to meet Hage before the game, enjoy some pizza during the game and get their own Hage’s Heroes T-shirt.

In July of this year Hage’s Heroes welcomed 1,000 members of City Kidz, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping inner city youth, to the Ticats retro game against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Besides bringing youth to Ticats games the program also gives back to the less fortunate in the community. This weekend Hage and Mosca will load up a truck full of turkeys to take to a local food shelter to ensure that everyone can enjoy a proper thanksgiving meal. The program also makes financial contributions to Hamilton charities including the McMaster Children’s Hospital.

“I am happy to give back whenever the opportunity arises, especially in these tough economic times,” said Hage.

Hage is by no means the only Ticat helping to give back to the community. Kicker Nick Setta runs Nick’s Kicks for Kids, a program that raises money to provide underprivileged children with running shoes. And earlier this season Kevin Glenn and Otis Floyd purchased 750 tickets for members of United Steelworkers Local 1005, allowing workers, many of whom had been laid off in the past six months, to participate in a buy-one-get-one-free ticket deal for the Labour Day game against the Argos.

Since its inception in 2006, Hage’s Heroes has helped over 3,000 underprivileged youth attend a Tiger-Cat home game.

For a complete look at the Tiger-Cats community partnerships please visit Ticats.ca

Winnipeg Blue Bombers

The Never Alone program was officially launched by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers Football Club in February of 2005 during the CFL Coach of the Year Award luncheon in Winnipeg.

The program was inspired by Blue Bombers president and CEO Lyle Bauer’s own experience with cancer. In late 2004 Bauer was diagnosed with throat cancer and has since beat it. “When I was first diagnosed with cancer I can tell you that in spite of family and friends, I had never felt so alone and unsure of what the future would bring” said Bauer.

The succe
ss of the program led to the formation of the Never Alone Foundation. The foundation’s goal is to help individuals and their families in the fight against cancer through research, education as well as support services for patients. CancerCare Manitoba is the primary beneficiary of the Never Alone foundation.

To date the Never Alone Foundation has raised over $100,000 in the fight against cancer through various fundraising initiatives.

Besides the Never Alone Foundation the Blue Bomber’s football club is actively involved in various other community initiatives. For more information on the foundation and any other Bomber’s community programs visit BlueBombers.com

Click here to read the second part of our series which featured the community initiatives of the Western Division Teams.