Football returns to four city high schools

By RON FANFAIR

A pall of gloom hung over C.W. Jefferys Collegiate Institute in the spring of 2007 when Grade Nine student Jordan Manners was fatally shot on the premises and the school received national media attention for all the wrong reasons.

Last week, the school’s administration and students were in a jovial and welcoming mood as they rolled out the red carpet for the media to report a feel-good story.

At a special team practice held at the public secondary school, the Toronto Argonauts unveiled a partnership with the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) and The Toronto Foundation for Student Success to revive the football programs at C.W. Jefferys, Lester B. Pearson, Eastern Commerce and North Albion Collegiate.

Two years after the high-profile shooting and subsequent allegations of sexual abuse at C.W. Jefferys, TDSB trustee Michael Coteau is confident that the re-introduction of football will have a positive impact on the school and its students.

“I think when you embrace any type of team sport that can really help the spirit of a school and allow that institution to come together and work towards something positive while building a sports infrastructure where you can develop leadership skills and foster a good sense of team work, that is a very good thing for a school,” said Coteau who was recently named executive director of AlphaPlus Centre.

“Schools that have had challenges in the past, any type of lift from something like a team sport can really elevate the spirit of a school and make them realize how valuable they are, not only to the community, but themselves as individuals…If we want to move forward as a city, we have to engage young people and the best way to do that is through partnerships like we have today and really bring in those resources that allow young people to do what they want.

“When you have so many kids coming out for tryouts, you can tell there is an enthusiasm to embrace a concept like team sport in a school and allow that school to be proud of itself.”

The TDSB chose the schools to take part in the Tim Hortons-sponsored “Level the Playing Field” program and the Argos have donated $10,000 to each school to get the programs off the ground. The Toronto football team also announced it would continue its subsidy of athletic therapists at all TDSB football contests for a second year.

“The Argos believe that all high schools should have football programs and other after-school activities and that students, regardless of socio-economic or cultural backgrounds, should have access to play,” said president and chief executive officer Bob Nicholson. “These high school football players represent the future. Many may go on to play in the CFL or at the university level. Many may meet new friends while developing their athletic ability and contributing in a positive way to their school and community…A deeper goal is to enhance the school culture and spirit and develop football as an after-school activity that can help curb youth violence in the community surrounding each school.”

TDSB superintendent responsible for education Glenford Duffus represented director Dr. Chris Spence at the launch. A former CFL running back, Spence was unable to attend the event because of business commitments in New York.

“I am looking forward to seeing and experiencing the impact this great program in going to have as it touches the lives of individuals in the various communities,” Duffus said. “This program will help build self-confidence and self-esteem, develop character, strategic thinking and sportsmanship and help young people improve school marks and physical fitness.”

C.W. Jefferys principal, Audley Salmon, a former Martingrove Collegiate athletic association and student council president, agreed with Duffus.

“This program is going to help students here and a myriad of schools across the TDSB,” he said. “Football is not simply about having individuals running around in shorts and T-shirts. It also has to do with building friendships and character.”

As part of the program, an Argos player will serve as an ambassador at each school, visiting practices and a game, hosting a classroom discussion about community and working with the team on a community activity. The Argos will also host a pep rally at each school and the team’s cheerleaders will provide a representative to act as an ambassador to help build cheer teams at the four schools.

In addition, C.W. alumnus and “So You Think You Can Dance Canada” special guest judge and choreographer Luther Brown is donating the service of his company – Do Dat Entertainment – to help establish the school’s cheer team.

“This is all so exciting because football is a passion for me and many of the guys here,” said C.W. Jefferys co-captain, Aaron Atwell. “We just can’t wait for the season to begin.”

The C.W. Jefferys program was scrapped after 24 years in 1989. Lester B. Pearson’s program lasted for 14 years up until 1995 while North Albion Collegiate has not been on the gridiron since 1980. Eastern Commerce’s program ran from 1926 to 1979.

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