As a parent, what do you do when you see the value of putting your child in a sport, but squeezing the cost of registration out of your bank account just isn’t feasible?
Corine Tiller-Brens of Langford found herself in that boat five years ago, when she was trying to get her son, Hayden, involved in some kind of physical activity. Being on a disability pension, she had difficulty finding extra cash at the end of the month with which to put her son in sports.
Watching Hayden, now a strapping 12 year old, run around a football field today – he’s a highly touted lineman with the Westshore Warriors junior bantam team – she expressed gratefulness that she connected to Langford SportAssist back then.
“He’s built a skill,” she said. “From a kid that couldn’t run or jump, he’s now running around the field three or four times. He’s come a long way.”
Not only has he found a place where he belongs, Tiller-Brens said her son is doing better at school and has more confidence.
Theirs is the kind of story that Gerry St. Cyr loves to hear. As the man behind SportAssist in Langford, and the operator of City Centre Park, he often witnesses changing family dynamics.
“You’re in a unique position in a sports facility, kids can be enrolled (in a sport) and then all of a sudden they’re not. There can be so many different reasons,” he said. “The reason why I started this … the single most important thing for a kid is getting out there and playing an active sport,” he said.
A lifelong athlete himself who has experienced the benefits of team activities, St. Cyr said it’s “very important” to help children enjoy those opportunities. “I see there’s a bigger demand today, that’s probably the biggest thing.”
The idea for SportAssist was spurred in 2008 when St. Cyr began seeing a hockey goalie aged about 13 lugging his gear down Langford Parkway. He asked around and found that the teen would take the bus out to Westhills Arena when he had enough money to play drop-in hockey.
Affected by the scenario, St. Cyr thought it would be great to be able to assist families in financial need with putting their children into sport. With $2,500 in seed money arranged by Mayor Stew Young, SportAssist was born.
These days, the organization works with many Langford families, helping either top up the cost of registration or in some cases, covering the whole amount, based on what the family can afford.
Danielle Driver’s family expenses have been high over the years, as their eight children, aged eight to 25, have long been involved in team sports, dance and other activities.
“Organized sports have become more important,” she said. “These kids need that physical outlet; it’s healthy for their body and their mind. But it becomes kind of expensive.”
She applied to SportAssist a number of years back to get younger children Isaiah and Faith signed up for Juan de Fuca youth soccer. While she admits the sport is reasonably priced compared to some others, their family still had a tough time coming up with the cash with so many other expenses ongoing. Today Isaiah plays in the under-12 silver level – he hopes to play gold next season – while Faith played U-15 silver girls this past season.
“SportAssist is great, I apply and I tell them what I can pay,” Driver said. “They probably wouldn’t play if it wasn’t for (the subsidy).”
Being a part of a group effort has had many positive effects on Isaiah and Faith, she said. “Isaiah was a high energy kid, but now he’s super mellow … This sets a pattern for a healthy lifestyle that we all need, but it’s healthy for their minds, too.”
Driver was quick to note that if her two kids were already in another sport, the family likely wouldn’t apply for funding. Finding that one activity they enjoy, she said, has “been a blessing for them. It’s affected who they are.”
St. Cyr echoed that sentiment.
“Whether it’s swimming, golf, hockey, whatever it is, getting them engaged and involved is really important,” he said.
Oh, and the young hockey goalie? SportAssist supported him and his family for three years so he could get into minor hockey. He went on to get a job in Langford and regularly plays in an adult league at Westhills Arena.