Free Footie Begins
It began, appropriately enough, with a group of kids kicking around a soccer ball at an inner city high school. Tim Adams was at the school for CBC radio and he stopped to watch. The kids had a lot of enthusiasm but no structure. Nobody to give them the guidance and support that many other kids get to develop their skills. The principal noticed his interest and invited him to start a team.
This was a high-needs school, and many kids had horrific life stories. One had been a child soldier in his homeland. Another was abandoned by his parents. Some were spending their nights on the streets or in drug houses. All of them wanted to play—all they needed was a role model and some support. "When we started playing we lost every game and got in fights with every team," remembers Tim.
Then the little brothers and sisters who were watching from the sidelines decided they would rather play. Tim formed a second team for these youngsters but they needed someone to play against. So he went to the other schools in the inner city neighborhood and got three more teams organized. Free Footie was born.
Free To Play
Free Footie ensures that any girl or boy in Grades 3, 4, 5, 6 who attend schools in the areas we serve and wants to play soccer, can. There are no registration fees and every child is given a pair or shin pads, soccer socks, shorts, a ball and a jersey.
But fees and equipment are often not the only barriers to play. Many of these children come from challenging home environments and have limited access to transportation.
That's why we made Free Footie a program that takes place right after classes with games scheduled so teams play against other teams right in their neighborhoods. That greatly reduce the need for transportation, one of the biggest barriers to participation.
Free Footie makes it easy for any child to get in the game.
Room To Grow
This is about much more than soccer. For many kids, this is a break from a stressful home life, to stay off the streets, and get onto the playing field where their energy and ambitions can be directed in positive ways.
In this program, they learn about teamwork and sportsmanship. They feel the thrill of pulling on a jersey to represent their school in weekly local games and at the end-of-season city-wide tournament. They quickly develop a sense of belonging, something many of them have never truly felt before. They get to grow in many ways.
As a league we have grown quickly, too. We started with four teams. Now we play year round, offer street hockey and basketball as well as soccer. In 2018/2019, we have nearly 4,000 children playing on 250 teams.