Argos “Level the Playing Field” across the TDSB

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It’s been so long since Borden Business and Technical Institute has had a football team no-one there can remember when it was.

However, thanks to $10,000 grants from the Toronto Argonauts’ Level the Playing Field program,  the Falcons will return to the field this fall, along with two other teams at Downsview Secondary School and Thistletown Collegiate Institute.

“Football represents more than just a game, it’s about life through sport,” said Borden principal Anthony Hack.  “Yes, our athletes get a chance to play, but more than that gain respect for themselves, respect for their coaches, and respect for their peers.

“Football provides motivation, discipline, and values beyond the game.”

After an estimated 30-year hiatus, Hack pointed to a sense of togetherness, school spirit, and anticipation growing within the school heading towards the upcoming season.

“It transfers from the playing field into the classroom, and in turn into the community,” Hack said.

Level the Playing Field was started in 2009 when it was realized that less than half of the 110 secondary schools in the city had football programs.

Jason Colero, Manager of Community Relations for the Argos was involved in the planning of the program.

“When we saw how low the number [of schools with football programs] was, we soon realized that funding was the main issue,” Colero said.

“It’s not that football has to be in every school, we just thought more kids deserve to experience it. It’s such a team-building sport, you know, anyone can play it, no matter your size, shape or background.”

Not only do the schools involved receive funding towards new equipment, uniforms, and athletic trainers for all of their home games and they will be honoured at an upcoming Argos game at the Rogers Centre.

The program will also provide each school with player and cheerleader ambassadors that attend several practices, games, and events at the schools, such as pep-rallies.

In total, $80,000 will be donated to the TDSB during the 2010 season, as 10 separate schools will also receive revitalization support for their existing football programs.

Strong first season

In it’s inaugural year, the program successfully returned football to North Albion Collegiate, C.W. Jefferys, Eastern Commerce, and Lester B. Pearson.

In particular, when Eastern Commerce played its first game since 1979 (partnered with nearby players from Monarch Park Collegiate), they resurrected a football tradition dating back to 1926.

“I have nothing but praise for the Argos organization, and what they’ve done for us here,” said Sean Henderson, now heading into his second year as head coach at Eastern.

“I see kids hanging out in the halls [together] that never would have before, and we’ve really developed a culture on the team while mixing with the Monarch kids.”

Henderson said despite finishing the year 0-5-1, that winning wasn’t everything, and simply being close in every game, and eventually picking up a tie was an accomplishment for his young club.

He also emphasized that the Argos offered ongoing support heading into the upcoming season, and praised them for not disappearing after the initial year of support.

“It wasn’t just a one-year thing, they’ve stayed with us every step of the way,” said Henderson. “We’ll have mentors back with us again this season.”

Running backs Andre Durie, Jeff Johnson, and Cory Boyd, linebacker Willie Pile, defensive tackle Kevin Huntley, and quarterback Cleo Lemon are the six Argos slated to be ambassadors this year.

“The three newest guys Boyd, Lemon, and Huntley all came to us looking to get involved in our community programs, specifically ones involving high school football,” Colero said.

“What I love is, these guys are ready to embrace the culture of the school, and really become a part of these teams even though none of them are from Toronto.”

Kicking Things off in Style

The second year of the Level the Playing Field program kicked off Wednesday afternoon as the Argos moved their practice to Scarborough, and the back of Borden B.T.I.

The new football teams from all three schools were in attendance, along with media, and members of the community.

Michael Brown, one of Borden’s new quarterbacks, spoke to Eric Heino of insidetoronto.com regarding the opportunity that lies ahead.

“I think we were chosen because of our reputation,” Brown said. “We have always given off the vibe that we are a tough school and we were chosen to make a change here.

“In our neighbourhood and surroundings, we have been giving off bad vibes and we now have a chance to change that.”

Principal hack echoed the point of his student, and felt the afternoon was a start of a new era.

“It was a fabulous event to showcase our school,” said Principal Hack. “Our [Borden’s] moto has now become One Team – One Voice.

“At one point we had grade nines, 10’s, 11’s, and 12’s, boys and girls, blacks and whites, teachers and coaches, Argos and police officers, all standing united in one huddle, shouting it out.”