Dave Donaldson was grinning ear to ear last week at the University of Winnipeg, where it was announced that his inner-city youth football program would be taking things to the next level.
Donaldson, a former Winnipeg Blue Bomber and current CFL official, launched the program along with Markus Howell, now a coach with the Bombers, in 2010.
It offers about 100 kids from eight inner-city elementary schools an opportunity to learn to play football for free. But Donaldson wants those numbers to grow and the U of W is poised to help make that happen when its new United Health and RecPlex opens next year.
"We’re working out of a gym with eight schools and 80 kids in there," said Donaldson, a Charleswood resident. "Having this RecPlex partner up with the inner city youth football program is going to turn our program into a league which will allow us to add every inner city school — not just the eight we already have."
Donaldson said there are nine more schools he hopes to include once the new facility is ready, and he doesn’t see why there can’t eventually be 300 or 400 kids learning how to pass, catch and run with the ball.
"The program’s on the cusp of getting to the point where we need more space to grow," Donaldson said.
For its part, the U of W named Donaldson and current Bombers quarterback Buck Pierce as adjunct coaches in its department of kinesiology. Pierce plans to help coach and mentor kids through the program.
"When you’re growing up, your role models are your coaches," Pierce said. "I got a lot of help along the way. If this is an opportunity for me to help these kids, I’m on board."
John Nixon-Pauls was one of the lucky kids on hand to toss a ball around with the two coaches at the announcement.
The 10-year-old King Edward School student, who said football is his second favourite sport behind hockey, is looking forward to his first year taking part in the football program.
"I can’t wait for the games," said the North End resident. "I’m going to go for lots of touchdowns."
Through the help of KidSport Manitoba and some generous private donors, Donaldson is able to transport kids to and from the football field and feed them after each session.
His hope is that kids learn the basics and decide they want to continue with the sport.
"We want to give them the bug," he said, adding that KidSport is able to help with the cost of signing up for tackle football once the kids are in middle school.
How successful has the program been over its first three years?
"The kids are how I know it’s a good thing," Donaldson said. "The kids keep showing up every week, the program seems to be growing, so we must be doing something right."