Members of the Greendell Falcons are hoping the team will be a soaring success at an international youth football tournament this summer.
The southeast Winnipeg-based team has been invited to take part in the prestigious Gathering IAFA Tournament in Dublin, Ireland in August.
Sponsored by the Irish American Football Association, the tournament is part of The Gathering Dublin 2013 — a celebration of Irish heritage, culture and sport that will be observed across the nation throughout the year, where organizers have extended an invitation to individuals of Irish descent to return to their homeland.
So far, the Falcons are the only team from Canada selected to take part in the tournament, which is aimed at youth aged 16 to 19. The team is slated to play two games in Dublin — one will be against the Irish All Star Team and the second matchup will be against a European nation, likely England, said key organizer and longtime volunteer Yvonne Hansen.
Hansen, the convener of the Greendell Falcons Football Program and logistics co-ordinator of the Euroteam, said the upcoming trip represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many of the team’s players, who come from a range of cultural and socio-economic backgrounds.
"Many of them wouldn’t normally have this opportunity in their lives and you only have to look at the impact it has on them already," said Hansen, who was born in Dublin. "They have a great sense of pride at the chance to be ambassadors for their community and country."
Hansen said the strength and unity of the team has long been solidified by the organization’s "one-for-all, all-for-one" philosophy.
"We have a lot of inner-city kids who go to school in the St. Boniface area, so they become part of our catchment," she said, noting the Falcons program is one of only three community centre-run football programs in the city. The team draws players from at least eight community centres, including Champlain, Norberry-Glenlee, Southdale and Winakwa.
"I feel so proud of these kids, their families and the Greendell Park Community Centre’s board. This just shows how important a role centres can play. They highlight the grassroots, personal component in youth development. Regardless of race or creed, there’s a there’s a place for everyone. I’m a big believer in equity. We need to give these kids a chance to grow," Hansen said.
To book the team’s place on the plane, there is still a lot of fundraising to be done, Hansen said, noting a contingent of 45 players and staff are scheduled to make trip. The Falcons have so far raised around $53,000 of the $126,000 needed to fund the trip. One fundraiser, on Easter weekend, saw the players take part in a 24-hour "ultimate football" marathon, which raised $24,000.
To help boost the coffers, the team is set to hold a Go Hog Wild event on Mon., July 15 at Danny’s BBQ & Smokehouse and Buck’s Sports Lounge (Unit B-1747 Ellice Ave.).
Blue Bombers quarterback Buck Pierce and former Bomber Obby Khan will be among the celebrities in attendance and there will be numerous raffle prizes. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. and dinner will follow an hour later.
Falcons player Justin Schram, 20, said the team has helped him grow and develop as an individual.
"It’s all about teamwork and staying together. We’re like a family. It’s also about discipline, as we’ve got to stay fit all year round. I practice hard and it’s like a job, except it’s a fun one," Schram said.
Teammate Alix Savard, 18, can’t wait to get on the football field in Dublin.
"As soon as I heard, I knew it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Savard said.
"We’ll be playing against huge teams, so it’s a dream. We’ll be representing our country, so it’s a pretty big honour. We’re looking to kick it up a notch, so it’s a really big honour. I’m really glad I’m a Falcon, as the people are really good here."
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