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Argonauts help revitalize Toronto high school football

Andrew Bucholtz
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There are plenty of CFL teams and players involved in significant charitable work, and that's very cool to see. From Adriano Belli (pictured, right) donating his entire paycheque while he's injured to the Hospital For Sick Children to the players involved in the Pepsi Refresh Project to Marwan Hage distributing Thanksgiving dinners to families in need to the Riders encouraging fans to donate blood to former CFL players donating their brains for concussion research, there are so many great stories that it would be impossible to cover them all. There was a particularly interesting one today, though, and it features the Argonauts offering some terrific charitable support and building football in Canada in the process.

Robert MacLeod has a neat feature in The Globe and Mail on the Argonauts' "Level The Playing Field" initiative, which has provided funding for seven Toronto-area high schools to launch or bring back football programs. The initiative began in 2008, and the team has so far contributed around $130,000 to it (with $80,000 more scheduled for next season). It's also sponsored by Tim Hortons Inc. and the Toronto Foundation for Student Success, and the Toronto police are also pitching in, with several officers volunteering their time as coaches. Here's what Constable Martin Douglas, the head coach at Sir Robert L. Borden Business & Technical Institute, told MacLeod about why he got involved:

Douglas grew up in Scarborough's notorious Malvern district and played football at the high-school level, a choice he said helped keep him out of trouble.

"I can tell you from my personal experiences, I avoided some pretty serious stuff that some of my friends went through," Douglas said. "Some of them got robbed or were injured pretty badly. Instead, I chose to go to football practice."

Before he became a football coach Douglas walked the halls at Borden as a school resource officer and he lobbied hard to get the football program up and running.

"Football teaches hierarchy, it teaches that there has to be discipline if you want to succeed," he said. "That's what these kids are learning."

This is a pretty cool idea. As Douglas points out, there are plenty of cases where sports have helped kids off the field by providing structure and discipline. Organized sports can also help kids get in shape and stay healthy, and that's obviously a good thing as well. Starting and maintaining a high school football program isn't easy, though, thanks to the equipment, facilities and time required, and it's particularly difficult in some of the neighbourhoods these schools are drawing from.

In my mind, this is a great cause for the Argonauts to get involved with; it's an area where a little funding can make a big difference, and it also helps promote the game of football. Their involvement with high schools isn't limited to supplying funds for football, either, as they also have run an extensive anti-bullying campaign in area schools for the last 10 years. Like many other CFL teams, they're making a difference in their community, and that's important.

It's probably going to be a while before these newly-launched programs reach the level of a school like Windsor's W.H. Herman Secondary that churns out talent for the CIS and NCAA ranks, but even if they never make it that far and never wind up producing players who go on to professional careers, these programs could still make a difference in the lives of kids. That's the real goal, and that's what really matters here.

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