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Getting Girls Off the Sidelines and Into the Game

If you were at TD Place in Ottawa on April 29 this year, you were treated to a historic sight. The venue welcomed St. Mark High School’s all girls tackle football team for a game – the first all-girls tackle football game in Canada’s history.

The girls from St. Mark High School formed the first ever all girls high school tackle football team in Ottawa. It started after several students at the school approached the football coach and asked why the boys got to have a team while the girls didn’t. The coach told them they could start a team but they needed team members- just hours later, nearly 100 girls had signed up. After regular practices and training, they got the opportunity to play against each other at TD Place thanks to the OSEG Foundation.

TD Place is part of the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group, a community hub which includes retail, commercial, and residential space, plus is the home of three sports teams (the CFL’s Ottawa Redblacks, the Ottawa Fury soccer team and the Ottawa 67’s of the Ontario Hockey League).

They also are home to the OSEG Foundation, of which David Gourlay is the Senior Manager responsible for Major Gifts. Before starting at the OSEG Foundation, Gourlay co-created the Miracle League of Ottawa and the Can-Am pro baseball team, the Ottawa Champions. He is an avid believer in the power of sport to change lives.

“My role at the OSEG Foundation is to be in the community, telling stories of what sport philanthropy is, and its potential to build our city,” said Gourlay.

The OSEG Foundation believes that sport is vital to building a more inclusive Ottawa. “We are committed to removing social, physical, accessibility, financial, cultural and gender barriers for young people that limit their full potential,” says Gourlay, referencing the organization’s mission statement.

Working to Reverse Declining Sports Participation Rates in Ottawa

“Sports philanthropy eliminates barriers for children and youth to get off the sidelines and into the game to work with positive role models and to build key life skills,” reads the OSEG Foundation website. Their commitment isn’t just talk. They are actively working to raise participation rates, focus on inclusion and improve the lives of all young people in Ottawa.

“We see declining rates among children and youth in sporting engagement and recreation,” says Gourlay. “The national numbers here in Canada are 1 in 3 men and 1 in 6 women regularly participate in sport – and these are adults. When kids don’t see their moms and dads participating in sport, they may not be as motivated.” He feels this is one of the reasons that we are seeing a declining rate of participation.

“I don’t know what it’s like in the US, but here in Canada it’s certainly a national conversation that’s taking place: Why are our kids and youth not as engaged in sport?” Gourlay adds that the lack of participation in sport has reached an international focus, with the United Nations speaking out about the power of sport to make an impact in communities around the world and the importance of sport for development programming to encourage lasting change.

Gourlay and the OSEG Foundation are working to bring to Ottawa the narrative that sport matters. “We really believe it and want as many kids who want to play to have the ability and choice of participating in sport,” he explains. “Our job at the OSEG Foundation is to address those barriers so that kids can get off the sidelines and into the game.”

So hosting the first ever all girls tackle football game in Canada fits right in with the organization’s mission of breaking barriers for young people. Gourlay says that they are especially passionate about helping girls be more interested in sports because they drop out much faster. According the OSEG Foundation, girls drop out of sports twice as much as boys.

In a video highlight of the historic football game, the girls say, “Why not us?” Gourlay sees that as a great metaphor for the work that the OSEG Foundation is trying to do around inclusion. “If one high school can do it, why not others?” he asks. “Perhaps there is an appetite for this, and we want to really embrace what’s been established at St. Mark as a best practice.”

Gourlay would love to see the program expand throughout Ottawa. “We want to showcase that girls can be fully included in sport,” he says, “and of course they can, why shouldn’t they be?” The OSEG Foundation is working to elevate the number of girls participating in sport, and the organization hopes that some of the work they are putting in to this initiative helps get more girls in the game.

Programming and Reporting Impact

While the OSEG Foundation is only a couple years old, they are already making an impact in the city of Ottawa. They have donated $65,000 to subsidize registration costs for families facing financial barriers to participate in sports. The organization has also donated $100,000 worth of sports equipment for children in low-income communities to be able to play.

The organization partners with autistic children in the Ottawa community and has developed programming to support 76 of those young people participating in sports-based activities. They invited blind children to TD Arena to teach them how to skate. “It’s amazing to get kids who would not even think about skating, a group for whom their visual disability is a barrier, and say, ‘Guess what? It is possible’,” says Gourlay. “Lace up your skates and with some instruction and guidance you can enjoy skating just as much as anybody else.”

The OSEG Foundation leverages partnerships in the community. “We want creative partnerships that offer unique value to the children and youth,” explains Gourlay. “We are always asking what we can do that’s truly unique that will work towards our end goal of getting youth off the sidelines and into the game.”

The Foundation supports programs for new Canadians that Gourlay says are critical in Ottawa and across Canada. “A large part of Canada’s history is about immigration,” he says. “As sport is about meeting people and learning a team dynamic, we want to fill the gap by partnering with organizations to provide inclusion through sport for new Canadians that want to be engaged but don’t know where to go.”

In addition to reversing participation rates, the OSEG Foundation is looking to transform the way sport is seen in Ottawa. “We want sport to be seen as a community enabler, something that changes and builds the community, something that inspires social change,” says Gourlay. “So we look for community partners that will work with us towards that goal.”

Gourlay and his colleagues also work hard to demonstrate their donor impact. Through their detailed community impact reports and impact pages on their website, the effect that the organization is making across Ottawa is apparent. “We want our donors to see value, so we are regularly in communication with them on results,” he says.

The OSEG Foundation hosts “signature” events throughout the year to raise funds and share resources towards reaching their goal of getting children active in sport. In July, they host a Women’s Training Camp with the Redblacks where women learn about football from the players, right there on the field. On August 18th, they’ll host their second annual Gourmet on the Gridiron gala dinner, also on the field.

While fundraising is a challenge for any nonprofit organization, Gourlay explains that the biggest challenge he and his colleagues face is changing that narrative of sports philanthropy. “Our job is to make sure that people who want to be philanthropic in Ottawa are thinking about sport as that driver of change in our community, especially for children and youth.”

Growth and the Future of Sport in Ottawa

Where does the OSEG Foundation go from here? “Growth for us is across the board: from a fundraising standpoint, from an impact standpoint and from a brand standpoint,” says Gourlay. “I spend a lot of time out of the office, as my job is to tell that story and share a sport for all inclusion narrative.”

Their goal is to make Ottawa passionate about the power of sport. “We’re very invested in the community, and we want the community to be invested in us as well,” says Gourlay. “We want them to understand that we are fully committed to sports philanthropy and the children and youth who must overcome obstacles to reach their full potential.”

Gourlay is passionate about the power of sport in his own life as well. “I’m the father of a four-year-old daughter who I hope will choose sports in her life- I’m teaching her how to pitch, I’m coaching her soccer team,” he says. Whether through his previous work with the Ottawa Champions baseball team, starting the Miracle League of Ottawa or now working with the OSEG Foundation, Gourlay is committed to using sport for good. “I hope to inspire and motivate people to be more involved in sport, and to see sport as that positive change for our community.”

Post Author: Danielle Berman

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