Anybody and everybody involved in the first major fundraiser for the new OSEG Foundation deserves a round of high fives and fist bumps for pulling off a tremendously successful event.
The $125-a-ticket Redblacks Women's Training Camp at TD Place Stadium sold out lickety-split and raised more than $100,000 toward sports programming that will help keep girls active and healthy. By the age of 14, they tend to drop out of sports at twice the rate as boys, according to the Women's Sports Foundation.
The OSEG Foundation was launched last year by the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group to give more children and youth the opportunity to play, learn and develop through sports. OSEG owns the Ottawa Redblacks football team, the Ottawa 67's hockey team and the Ottawa Fury soccer club. It also operates the stadium and the commercial district of Lansdowne, which is a booming destination for nightlife and entertainment in Ottawa.
More than 360 women of all ages and athletic abilities donned running shoes and workout clothes as they gathered together on the football field, scoring perfect weather conditions. There, they were led through a series of warm ups by a fit and toned Maria Bassi.
Bassi was part of the event’s 24-member female leadership team and is also a founding donor of the OSEG Foundation. She's married to well-known Ottawa builder John Bassi.
On hand were head coach Rick Campbell, the OSEG Foundation’s executive director, Janice Barresi, and honourary president Henry Burris.
The Redblacks players made their grand entrance by running onto the field, and slapping the outstretched hands of nearby fans.
The athletes spent the next few hours instructing the women on such skills as how to throw and catch a football, tackle players and kick a field goal. Observed were versions of the wobbly-leg, ball-spiking football dance – normally reserved for such special occasions as a touchdown – but also appropriate that day to celebrate the women's smaller victories, like the catching of a pass. The signature fundraiser for the OSEG Foundation was presented by St. Laurent Shopping Centre.
“I think it’s amazing to look out at the field and see so many women,” said leadership committee member Krista Kealey, vice-president of communications and public affairs at the Ottawa International Airport Authority. “Just listening to the hooting and hollering, you know everybody is having so much fun.”
The Redblacks players also toured the groups around the locker and weight rooms and went over some televised plays, in a classroom setting. Afterward, there was a post-drill reception, with auction items and take-home swag bags full of gifts, in the exclusive Otto’s Club.
“It’s awesome to meet such empowered women and to be able to teach them some football,” Redblacks quarterback Trevor Harris told OBJ.social, after giving a lesson on how to throw the perfect spiral. “It’s amazing how well they’re picking it up.”
When asked whether any of the women had draft potential, Harris politely replied: “We’ll have to talk to Coach Campbell about that. That’s outside of my power.”
Among the football fans to take part was leadership committee member Lynda Bordeleau, a law partner at sponsor Perley-Robertson, Hill & McDougall LLP. She grew up in Ottawa going to football games with her dad. She's also a Redblacks season ticket holder with her husband, Ottawa Police Chief Charles Bordeleau.
“It’s our ‘happy place,'” said Bordeleau of their game nights together.
She brought together two groups, totalling 20 women. Most of participants knew very little about football prior to the training camp but ended up taking a shine to the sport, she said.
“I think they’ll be coming to games,” Bordeleau predicted.
As for the drills, said the marathon runner, "They're a workout. I'm feeling it."
Leadership committee member Chantal Biro-Schad also knows a thing or two about football. Her husband and business partner, Andre Schad, was formerly drafted by the Montreal Alouettes (but got injured), while his brother Mike played in the NFL, and their 13-year-old son, Wolfgang Schad, is a quarterback for the OPFL Cumberland Panthers.
She, too, recruited two teams of women, consisting of customers, friends and football moms. It was an easy ask.
“Everybody – unless they couldn’t come because of a prior engagement – said ‘Yes,'” she noted.
The Schads owns the eponymous high-end clothing boutique on Sussex Drive. They also run the seasonal outdoor patio and bar hotspots, Tavern on the Hill, located in Major’s Hill Park, and the new Tavern by the Falls, located along the Ottawa River, at 50 Sussex.
Biro-Schad has watched her share of football and tossed many balls around with her son, but never had she participated before in football drills and exercises. They were harder than she'd expected.
“The players make it look so easy,” said Biro-Schad, who was just grateful she didn’t have to deal with being tackled, on top of everything else.