There is a lot of money in kids’ sports. In Canada alone, recent research suggests that youth sport has become an industry worth $8.7 billion per year.
Unfortunately, amid this flow of dollars, and the sometimes astronomical cost for parents, many kids from lower-income homes are getting left on the sidelines.
Enter Tim Adams with Free Footie.
Free Footie is the not-for-profit organization that Adams created after covering a story in 2007 for the CBC at an Edmonton inner-city school. After witnessing the social and economic challenges faced by the children, he volunteered to run an after-school soccer program for free.
That was the beginning of what would eventually become Free Footie. In the years since, the program has grown to serve 4,000 kids in grades 3 to 6 between September and June each year at numerous Edmonton schools.
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Having started with soccer programming, Free Footie now runs free basketball, street hockey, football, and rugby programming as well.
While all children are welcome to play, Free Footie programmers find that most participants are refugees, newcomers, or Indigenous youth who can’t afford to participate in traditional “pay to play” community sports programs. This falls in line with Adams’ initial inspiration to serve vulnerable youth in particular.
Adams also discovered early on that money wasn’t the only thing keeping kids from playing. Many kids couldn’t access standard community sport programs that ran evenings and weekends because their families simply didn’t own a vehicle, or their parents worked those hours.
Free Footie has remedied timing and transportation problems by running its programs immediately after school and by organizing transportation for the kids. Participants are picked up directly from their schools right after the bell at the end of each day.
Free Footie partners with elementary schools of highest need. Teachers, principals, and school staff volunteer to run the programs, and Free Footie designs the programs, trains volunteers, books facilities, and buys equipment.
Programming currently runs on two afternoons a week during the school year, but Free Footie hopes to add more days by recruiting more volunteers and doing more fundraising.
According to the Free Footie website, its mission is “to provide vulnerable kids with the opportunity to play in a safe, accessible, and inclusive environment at no cost to them or their families—because when kids are empowered through play, their families, their schools, and their communities are empowered as well.”
It’s a noble purpose, and one that shows the power of sport in bringing people and communities together when it’s done without selfish motives.