If you told the new football recruits seen hustling down the field of TD Place on Friday night that they run like a girl, throw like a girl and even tackle like a girl, it would be a total compliment.
Each one of those participants was female, and each was helping to raise more than $75,000 for the OSEG Foundation and its efforts to remove barriers that limit girls’ involvement in sports.
Some 200 women of all ages learned or improved upon their: throwing, catching and kicking skills, tackling of their opponent, and dodging of defenders of a glorious touchdown, along with their general knowledge of football. It was all part of the popular Redblacks Women's Training Camp.
On hand was executive director Janice Barresi and her team from the OSEG Foundation. It's the charitable arm of the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group. OSEG owns and operates the Redblacks, the OHL 67’s and the USL Championship’s Ottawa Fury FC. It also manages TD Place stadium and arena.
Studies have repeatedly shown that girls drop out of sports at a much higher rate than boys, once they become teenagers. Factors include a lack of accessibility and positive role-models, costs, social stigma, and a decline in the quality of the sports experience. Research has also found that 41 percent of girls aged 3 to 17 and 84 percent of women do not even participate in sport.
This past spring, the OSEG Foundation welcomed Ottawa's first all-girls tackle football team, from St. Mark High School, to practice with the pros and play a little football at TD Place.
Participants of the training camp started off with some warm-up exercises, led by a professional trainer from the GoodLife Fitness located at Lansdowne Park.
The Ottawa Redblacks players next made their splashy entrance by running out of the giant, inflatable Redblacks helmet and onto the gridiron, as head coach Rick Campbell introduced them individually.
Campbell encouraged the women to enjoy themselves, to learn more about football, and to get to know some of the players, which wasn’t hard to do. The men were very gracious and in good spirits as they spent their evening coaching and encouraging the women. The athletes seemed genuinely happy to be volunteering, even though they’d played a big game the night before and had sweat the hot afternoon away at practice.
“It’s absolutely a thrill,” Redblacks wide receiver Brad Sinopoli told OBJ.social of his annual involvement in the women’s training camp benefit. “Everyone has a great time and the women are awesome. Their enthusiasm is off the charts.”
One of the activity stations included a tour of the Redblacks’ locker room — which was exceptionally clean and tidy. “I was vacuuming,” quipped defensive lineman Ettore Lattanzio, who helped to show the women around. “I had the Swiffer out and every thing.”
The hottest prospect that night was Geneviève Chouinard from BDO Canada. Her skills as a soccer player helped her successfully kick the ball through the goal posts again and again.
First-time participants included Ottawa entrepreneurs Donna Baker, co-founder and managing partner of HR and recruiting firm Keynote Group, and Kyla Cullain, co-founder and clinical nurse specialist with BuildAble, a nurse-managed home accessibility company. The women won WBN Ottawa Businesswomen of the Year awards, in the emerging entrepreneur category, in 2018 and 2017, respectively.
Baker told OBJ.social that she's usually at TD Place to watch the soccer games. What does the Brit know about CFL football? "Nothing," she replied, bluntly.
But, that didn't stop her from taking part. "It's good fun," said Baker, who recently became a Canadian citizen.
Former national team baseball athlete Hannah Martensen, co-chair of the 2019 U21 Women’s Invitational Championships being held at Ottawa's RCGT Park from August 1st-4th, took part. So did CTV Ottawa News co-anchor Patricia Boal.
Bay Ward Coun. Theresa Kavanagh, city council’s first special liaison for women’s issues, and Ottawa Centre MP Catherine McKenna, who’s also Canada’s minister of environment and climate change, were part of a group organized by Danielle McGee, director of community relations for the office of Mayor Jim Watson and wife of David Gourlay, who recently joined the OSEG Foundation as senior manager of major gifts.
McKenna is used to political footballs but can credit her smooth throws and clean catches to her days of playing intramural football back in law school at McGill University. She’s also a competitive swimmer, and was captain of her swim team at the University of Toronto.
"Sports teaches you even to lose, sometimes, and then to pick yourself back up."
“In politics, sports has taught me more than anything else,” she told OBJ.social. "It teaches you to be disciplined. It teaches you to work hard. It teaches you to be part of a team. Sports teaches you even to lose, sometimes, and then to pick yourself back up.”
The training camp was an opportunity for Redblacks fans like public servant Crystal Parsons to find like-minded women who appreciate the sport as much as she does.
“I love football,” she told OBJ.social. “It's one of those sports where it’s never over until it’s over. You might be down to the last second in a game and you think you can’t possibly bring it back, but you can. It’s a good metaphor for life.”