For 50 kids from Winnipeg’s inner city, spring break was an opportunity to go to university.
The University of Winnipeg teamed up with the Youth Agencies Alliance — a group of 18 organizations dedicated to keeping young people in school and out of gangs — to offer the second annual Inner City Wesmen Spring Break Sports Camps.
The participating kids were mostly from the North End and West End, and were between 10 and 12 years old. They took part in three days of basketball and soccer programming put on by Wesmen coaches and players, while some kids also took advantage of art activities hosted by Graffiti Art Programming.
"We just want to provide kids with a healthy, safe environment where they can learn new skills, make friends and have a good time," said Chino Argueta, YAA’s recreation and sports co-ordinator.
"They get to hang out with role models they look up to. We come with the kids to watch some (Wesmen) games, so they recognize some of the players."
Argueta said many of the kids leave the camp with dreams of one day playing basketball or soccer for the Wesmen themselves.
Breanne Nichol, a second-year guard for the Wesmen women’s basketball team, was one of the university students leading the drills. She said the kids’ love of basketball is infectious for her and her teammates.
"They all want to be here, which is awesome," said the Fort Richmond resident. "They have a lot of fun, and I like seeing how much they improve in three days."
While many of the kids already enjoy the sport, Nichol especially enjoys hearing that the camp has convinced other kids to take up basketball more seriously.
The YAA puts together several youth basketball and soccer teams through its various agencies. It enters teams in the Winnipeg Minor Basketball Association out of the Magnus Eliason Recreation Centre, and fields teams in the Winnipeg Youth Soccer Association through Central Community Centre.
The hope is that the spring break camp will convince more kids to join those teams.
"Hopefully we’ll grow those programs so more kids will be involved in positive activities," said Argueta, who added that YAA also runs a summer futsal program for about 160 kids.
Grant Richter, the university’s director of athletic programs and community liaison, said it’s vital for the school to reach out to young people in the neighbourhood.
"Our university, as an inner-city school, we think it’s our responsibility to make connections with community kids. Sports is a great hook for keeping out of trouble and in school."
Richter said the more welcome the kids feel on campus, the more they’ll be able to see themselves as future students.
"It’s not a goal that’s out of reach for them," Richter said.