Ottawa Sport Council Foundation grant opens doors to sport for dozens of youth

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Grade 3 to 5 girls taking part in the Ottawa Shooting Stars’ Leadership in Basketball and Life program. Supplied photo.

By Charlie Pinkerton

Dozens of athletes-in-the-making are already benefitting from thousands of dollars in funding that was awarded in November to a pair of local sports programs.

The Ottawa Sport Council Foundation announced last month that a soccer program operated by the Ottawa Community Housing Foundation and Ottawa TFC and a pilot program run by the Ottawa Shooting Stars Basketball Club were chosen to receive $1500 from the True Sport Foundation to increase opportunities for underserviced populations to access sports.

The grant has already helped birth a success in the Shooting Stars’ program, which hit its enrolment capacity less than a month after its launch.

Despite a lackluster debut that saw less than a handful of girls show up to its first session, the Ottawa Shooting Stars’ Leadership in Basketball and Life program has capped out with nearly 30 Grade 3 to 5 girls enrolled to learn new skills in what the project has crafted as an “inclusive, positive and welcoming environment” to learn basketball and leadership skills.

Ottawa Shooting Stars head coach Andrea Bell said the club’s program was inspired in part by her daughter, who’s in Grade 4, and a desire to build a development program for girls around her age.

“That has been a major goal: Inclusiveness. I’ve been involved in sports. My daughter played also in Grade 3 and I felt that (she and her teammates) were walking away and not really knowing who they had played with, but getting good at basketball skills,” Bell said.

“So, I have a strong desire to teach them skills, so I would say that’s still a strong component and if you raise the level of expectation to them, they do step up to the challenge. It’s probably equal parts (basketball and social).”

Girls enrolled in the program will practise once a week and participate in evenings dedicated to three-on-three games at gyms in the Nepean Centrepointe area until just before March break. The additional focus on a social component has meant that girls have had the opportunity to get together for a potluck and that they’re expecting to attend a Carleton Ravens game as a group in the New Year.

A moment that’s stood out so far to Bell was the start to the program’s first overbooked session.

She recalled the excitement of opening a locked door to the Roberta Bondar Public School gym to a mixture of 30 players and some of their parents, who piled into the gym eagerly.

Bell said it was a “thrill” and proved early on that the program would have legs.

“They could really just not wait to jump on that court and play,” Bell said.

The grant the Shooting Stars received helps support the program by contributing to cover the costs of five coaches, referees, gym rentals and equipment fees.

Kickin’ It Up a Notch

The Ottawa Community Housing Foundation will grow its Shoot for the Stars Community Soccer program that it runs in tandem with Ottawa TFC with the help of the new funding.

The program was started last year and allowed for 10 kids aged six to 12 from the Confederation Court Ottawa Community Housing neighbourhood to play soccer once a week for about three months, free of charge. Staff came from both Ottawa TFC and the Ottawa Community Housing Foundation.

“What we wanted to do is to use (the program) to serve our community,” said Ottawa TFC coach Raz El-Asmar, who helped the program operate in its first year.

The Ottawa TFC coach said one “special” aspect was having some kids from the introductory program graduate to the club’s competitive teams.

The Shoot for the Stars Community Soccer program expects to exceed an estimated 60 participants of the same age group from three Ottawa Community Housing neighbourhoods this coming season, with the help of the additional funding.

“In the end it’s something positive for the kids who are growing up who maybe don’t have these opportunities and hopefully through the sport of soccer maybe they can have that reassurance value and build confidence as well,” El-Asmar said.

In announcing the grant recipients, the True Sport Foundation praised each of the programs.

“Both organizations are doing fantastic work to ensure that kids who otherwise may not have the opportunity to participate are included and will experience the many benefits that a “True Sport” experience has to offer,” said Karri Dawson, the True Sport Foundation’s executive director, in a press release.

Editor’s Note: The Ottawa Community Sport Media Team, the not-for-profit organization that publishes the Ottawa Sportspage, was proud to facilitate the partnership between the OCH Foundation and Ottawa TFC Soccer as part of our Connecting Athletes of All Means to Paths in Sport (CAMPS) Project. We’d like to send a big thank you to the Ottawa Sport Council and True Sport Foundations for their support, and look forward to opening more doors for local low-income kids in sport and life next summer! Congratulations also to the Shooting Stars on your amazing initiative for young girls and best wishes for continued success!

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