Spence kids' hopes rest in hoops
A Spence Neighbourhood Association program is helping kids play basketball in city leagues.
On the court it is all about the basketball, but for organizers it is as much about keeping kids healthy and headed in the right direction.
"I don't mean to brag but I can do a layup shot you know, so I give myself a ten pretty much," says 12-year-old William Sesay as he spins a ball on his finger.
William moved to Canada from Sierra Leone in 2001.
He has been shooting hoops for four years.
"Mostly every Thursday because I play on the basketball team, every Sunday and sometimes I come over here and play," says William.
William plays at the Spence Neighbourhood Association's recreation centre on Langside Street.
It is an area ripe with gang activity. Kids are often recruited to join a life of crime.
The basketball program is meant to keep kids off the street.
"This is a whole lot better. In gangs you can be killed just for being in a gang," says William.
On the court colour, language and culture do not matter.
Not many children living in the inner city play in city league team sports.
It is expensive and some parents cannot drive their kids to games.
This program pays the league fees and provides the players shoes, jerseys and even rides to games and practices.
It works thanks to dozens of volunteers.
"It's nice to get kids involved in something they can kind of grow with and seeing the kids and how they get along with each other and watching them play it's also satisfying for me as a coach," says Jon Lundgren.
Safi Shimirimana says moving from Africa has been tough on her kids, but here they fit right in.
"Since they've been coming here to play basketball I think now they're like, they're free," says Shimirimana.
Some parents say the benefits are felt at home too.
"They're busy not doing bad things when they're home they're tired right away," laughs Pat Sammurtok who moved to Winnipeg from a reserve in Nunavut.
Three years ago only 20 kids were enrolled, but now there are 100 kids playing on 10 teams.
Some of these kids are doing so well in this program they are being scouted by other teams. One former player from this club is now playing on an elite team at the University of Winnipeg.
"You see them grow over the course of a season. They become competitive with kids who have been playing for years longer, just because they get so enthusiastic at having the chance to play," says Nick Tanchuk from the Spence Neighbourhood Association.
Now the bad news, the program's funding is running dry.
If sponsors do not come forward soon these kids may be fouled out of the game.
Organizers, parents and the kids say the program needs to be saved.
After all, they say it gives kids confidence and something to shoot for.
The University of Winnipeg donated jerseys to the program.
Dollar-Rent-a-Car loaned the teams two vans to take the kids to games.
The program is operating on a one time grant of $25,000.
That money was given by the True Sport Foundation which is a federal program.
With a report from CTV's Rachel Lagac�