Getting kids in the game

Greater Vernon KidSport removes financial barriers from sport.

Usain Bolt’s parents ran a local grocery store in a small town in Jamaica. Bolt spent his time playing cricket and soccer in the street with his brother, and later was quoted as saying: “When I was young, I didn’t really think about anything other than sports”.

Bolt didn’t need to hold bottle drives or sell chocolates or Christmas wreaths as he won schoolboy sprint races on his way to stardom. His chosen sport was highly affordable.

Same goes for Olympic stars Christine Sinclair, Hope Solo, Ashton Eaton, Jessica Ennis and Michael Phelps.

While they may have received special funding along the way, none of them were ever denied a sports registration as a child because their family was poor.

Watching the Olympics always jumpstarts exposure for numerous sports we rarely pay attention to during hockey and football season. It’s also a time where dream weavers get their start. Most medalists say they hoped as a child, to one day win at the Olympics.

My favourite pre-Olympic story was the piece on Khetag Pliev, who is representing Canada in wrestling at the Olympics.

The guy used to sleep on a green bench in Allan Gardens, in downtown Toronto, a patch of green space near a burger joint known locally as “Hooker Harvey’s” and the kind of hotel that rents by the hour.

The police presence is high. At night, the park becomes the domain of drug dealers and vagrants. He kept his clothes at a buddy’s house and showered at his wrestling club. But he had nowhere to live.

He got some help from his wrestling coach, started reading the Bible and turned his life around.

When visiting his folks in Cincinnati, Pliev trained with UFC fighter Rich Franklin, running kettlebells up hills and dragging a sled laden with weights through the streets. He returned to form, winning three straight national championships. Last December, he qualified for the Olympics.

It’s classic stuff. Pliev never medalled in London, but his story should inspire people to help others no matter how hopeless their plight may appear.

As our economy keeps tanking and the cost of gas explodes, it’s becoming tougher for families to put their kids in athletics.

Enter Greater Vernon KidSport, part of a nationwide charity that believes that no kid should be left on the sidelines and all should be given the opportunity to experience the positive benefits of organized sports.

KidSport provides support to children in order to remove financial barriers that prevent them from playing organized sport.

In Vernon, they have, through seven months of 2012, funded almost $25,000 to just under 200 kids in 16 different sports.

Recent stats show KidSport issued $7.1 million for 60,000 youngsters in 2009.

Last week, Kelowna’s Josh Gorges, a d-man with the Montreal Canadiens, took the NHL’s Goals and Dreams program to Kelowna Minor Hockey.

The program, which began 13 years ago by the NHL Players Association, buys equipment and pays registration fees for kids who otherwise couldn’t afford to play minor hockey.

“I started thinking this year that I have to start doing more for the community and helping out as much as I can,” Gorges told Black Press Sports.

“This is such a good opportunity for me to get involved and help kids that maybe don’t have the opportunity to play hockey like I did. The game has done so much for me.”

Gorges, a former Kelowna Rockets’ captain, hopes to help up to 50 kids a year if the demand is there.

The application process for KidSport in Vernon is rather simple. The adult sponsor fills out an application form and takes it to an adjudicator who is familiar with the athlete’s family. It can be a school principal or family doctor.

KidSport, by the way, is the charity of choice for the Vernon Vipers inaugural golf scramble Saturday, Aug. 25 at The Rise. Hole sponsors are still needed. Call head pro Lee Ranger at 503-4535.