Soccer ball

Distribution of soccer balls at Winnipeg’s downtown park gives young people the chance to play and build community

On a hot Saturday afternoon, families from downtown Winnipeg gathered in Central Park for an event that gave away free soccer balls and other equipment – and gave kids a chance to get active, which the COVID-19 pandemic has often made difficult.

The 100 Soccer Balls event was organized in collaboration between Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba and Central Neighborhoods Winnipeg, a neighborhood revitalization group organized under the auspices of the Spence Neighborhood Association.

“We have 100 footballs, cleats and socks to donate. We are hoping to reach that 100 – we did this last year,” said IRCOM’s Jackie Dolynchuk.

The event was inspired by 100 Basketballs, an annual event launched by Aboriginal Youth Opportunities to donate basketballs to youth in Winnipeg’s North End neighborhood.

The reason for donating soccer balls to downtown park — instead of basketballs — was strategic.

“It’s one of the only green spaces available in the neighborhood, and it’s a football field, so we want everyone to be able to participate and play football,” said Olivia Michalczuk of the Spence Neighborhood Association.

Olivia Michalczuk of the Spence Neighborhood Association registers kids for free soccer equipment at the 100 Soccer Balls event. (Travis Golby/CBC)

“Everyone deserves to play sports and play and be able to participate. We just wanted to make sure everyone has access to the things they need, so they can enjoy this beautiful park.”

In addition to the gear giveaways, the kids at the event also learned a bit more about the sport.

“Our after-school program staff are here today. They’ll be doing skills and drills with the kids once they have all their soccer balls,” Dolynchuk said.

“We hope that those who have never played football before – or are new to it… gain some experience and also know how to do things.”

A soccer player from downtown Winnipeg shows off his skills in Central Park. (Travis Golby/CBC)

With the COVID-19 pandemic limiting in-person activities for more than a year now, Dolynchuk says it’s good for young people to get out and play.

“Football is a game that doesn’t necessarily require tons of equipment and space for kids to play. It’s good for them to have that social interaction, especially in the last year,” said said IRCOM’s Dolynchuk.

“It’s good physically. It’s good for them mentally and emotionally. And it also helps build community,” she said.

Kids “just pick up and play,” Dolynchuk said. “It’s a great way to build community.”

Football provides a good opportunity for social interaction, “especially in the last year,” says IRCOM’s Jackie Dolynchuk. (Travis Golby/CBC)