During this past week I’ve been shown a couple examples of how sports have become more than just a game to some communities. Earlier this week I was given a copy of the basketball documentary Flint Star, I read a timely article on Sports Illustrated about the connection the Saints have with New Orleans and then Jeff Wong sent me a link for an article about how the Raptors are running a youth league in Regina that’s helping to reach kids who need an escape from the negative influences in their community.
As a sports fan I have to admit that I shrug off the positive effects that sports can have on people’s lives. The Sports Illustrated article started to change this perception because it talks about how the Saints are one of the rare things that people still living in New Orelans can cling to. Peter King sums the huge effect that a pro team can have on a community or country when he reported new Saints coach Jay Payton saying, “the devastation is just numbing. I was in New York with the Giants (as an offensive co-ordinator) for 9/11, and I thought I’d seen serious damage before, but the scope of this – no one can describe it. You have to see it. The months and the years ahead are going to be so stressful for this town. If we have a good (draft on) Saturday, and we win on Sundays this fall, I now we can help this community heal. It’s part of our duty.”
The Raptors are taking the idea of being a beacon of hope to downtrodden communities and taking it to a whole other level by helping kids across the country. Instead of just helping out communities within the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) where they can draw possible revenue by making new fans, the Raptors have stepped up and formed kids hoops leagues all across Canada.
Tim Switzer of the Leader-Post wrote a great column this week that talks this and brought my attention to some of the great things the Raptors organization are doing for kids across Canada. Switzer informs readers that, “each Friday and Saturday night over 140 kids gather at Scott Collegiate to play basketball and, more importantly, stay away from negative influences,” and that, “in instances where Raptor Ball players may be caught getting involved with gangs, drugs or alcohol, that person will hear from one of the volunteers — most of whom have faced similar circumstances.”
One of the adults that helps mentor these kids is Brandon Brooks. He grew up in Louisiana but he’s relocated for Regina and helps run out the Raptors Ball program there. Brooks told Switzer that, “I really want to put my mark on this neighborhood being from a tough neighborhood myself. This is something that this community needs — a big organization like the Toronto Raptors sponsoring this. I’d like to be the one to help get it started, break ground with this. Where I’m from, sports saves lives. If you weren’t shooting a basketball or studying for school, you were either getting shot or trying to steal. Sports is a real big important issue in communities like this.”
A couple of months ago I talked about how the Raptors made a classy move with their Read to Achieve initiative so I wasn’t really surprised to read that they are going above and beyond with their youth basketball programs. Most NBA cities run these types of programs in the area surrounding the franchise but the Raptors have taken things to the next level by running them across the country.
It’s great to see that the Raptors are a franchise committed to providing kids with hope and an escape from their tough lives.