Soccer ball

Soccer ball in downtown Winnipeg park gives youth the chance to play and build community

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

The 100 Soccer Balls event was organized in collaboration between the 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 soccer balls, cleats and socks to donate. We hope to reach those 100 donations – we did this last year,” said Jackie Dolynchuk of IRCOM.

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.

The reason why soccer balls were handed out in the downtown park – instead of basketballs – was strategic.

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

Olivia Michalczuk of the Spence Neighborhood Association is giving children free soccer gear at the 100 Soccer Balls event. (Travis Golby / CBC)

“Everyone deserves sport and play and to 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 equipment gifts, the kids at the event also learned a bit more about the sport.

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

“We hope that those who have never played football before – or who are new to it … gain some experience with the sport 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 over a year now, Dolynchuk says it’s good for young people to get out and play.

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

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

The kids “just take it and play,” Dolynchuk said. “It’s a great way to build community. “

Football offers a good opportunity for social interaction, “especially with last year,” says Jackie Dolynchuk of IRCOM. (Travis Golby / CBC)