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This article was published 22/5/2013 (1546 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Buck Pierce, football in hand, was standing on the University of Winnipeg's front lawn Wednesday afternoon, appearing relaxed even without any blocking as he looked downfield and shouted out an audible of sorts.
Except this time, his team consisted of a bunch of inner-city elementary-school boys and girls.
The kid in the autograph-decorated Blue Bombers sweater Buck was about to connect with for a touchdown was a 10-year-old named Jordan Dumas.
It turns out that Buck, a 32-year-old transplanted Californian, is a natural at connecting with kids. He's been doing it at inner-city schools for the last three of the four years he's been with the Bombers.
At a news conference on the same downtown lawn Wednesday, the U of W announced Buck and former Bomber Dave Donaldson have become adjunct Wesmen coaches in anticipation of the Inner City Youth Football Program of five- and seven-man flag-football teams to be welcomed to the university's United Health and RecPlex when it opens next year.
After playing football with the kids, Buck talked about how and why he got involved.
'The longer I stayed here, the more I realized what the community was like here. Everybody opens their doors for each other and everybody helps each other out' -- Bombers QB Buck Pierce
It's because of who he is as a person, of course, but as it turns out, his decision to stay here year-round and get involved in the community was because of who we are as a people and a culture.
That and maybe meeting his future wife here in May 2010, a month after signing with the Bombers.
Buck and Lori -- he declined, in a protective way, to share her last name -- are to be married next May.
But even before he met Lori, when he first arrived here after five years of playing in Vancouver, what impressed him was how supportive and welcomed he felt by everybody.
"As an athlete, that's a rare thing because the job security is so tough in this industry. So it really gave me a sense of community. And the longer I stayed here, the more I realized what the community was like here. Everybody opens their doors for each other and everybody helps each other out."
As his mother, Connie, stood back anonymously watching another day in the sun for her son, Buck explained the more basic reason he's involved in giving back.
"That's the reason God put me on the Earth. To make a difference."
But he isn't just a role model for the kids. He's become a role model for the whole community.
"The main reason I wanted to get involved was really just because of all the support that I was getting.
"Everybody was so welcoming and I said, 'You know what? I gotta do something to give back. I gotta spend my off-season here. I want to delve into the culture here and see what makes our fans so passionate, what makes our tradition so rich.' And you know it was interesting, it was great. Now I see these same kids I saw three years ago."
He didn't venture into visiting inner-city schools without at least some understanding of the role of the other teams that want to recruit the kids there. He watched the news, he knew about gangs.
"And then you show up and they're just kids," Buck said. "They're looking for structure, they're looking for opportunity. At a young age, all you want is an opportunity.
"I met Dave (Donaldson) a number of years back through the inner-city program," Buck said of his fellow adjunct coach at the U of W. "And he does so many things for the after-school program and things like that."
Dave was a benefactor of the after-school program as a kid at John M. King School, just a few blocks down Ellice Avenue from the U of W.
That program is still run by Mark Titheridge, the same guy, along with Dave's watchful mother, who helped keep him out of trouble when he was young.
"Without the after-school program," Dave said Wednesday as he stood beside one of the Winnipeg police officers assigned Wednesday to inner-city schools, "I would for sure have taken the other side."
He meant join a gang instead of a team.
So having absorbed that lesson as a kid, Dave and now Bomber assistant coach Markus Howell teamed up three years ago to form the Inner City Youth Football Program, which now has about 100 players from eight schools playing on the grounds of John M. King School.
It's that program, and how it could be embraced by the university, that prompted U of W president Lloyd Axworthy to give Buck Pierce a call and reach out to Dave Donaldson.
What they want to do eventually is make Buck the face of a fundraising campaign that will create a foundation called The Buck Stops Here, which envisions corporations and individuals stepping up to expand the program.
Including much-needed coaches.
The idea behind The Buck Stops Here is simple: We all need to take responsibility for the future of at-risk kids.
In other words, we need to do what Buck Pierce told young Jordan Dumas to do Wednesday and what he is exemplifying by becoming part of Winnipeg in such personal way.
And "go long."