The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have geared up and headed to northern Manitoba this month, to give First Nations youth a chance to try football and honour a student for her work in taking a stand against bullying.
Every March, players from the Winnipeg CFL team visit schools across the province to present the Samantha Mason Friendship Award, and talk with students about fostering healthy relationships and creating positive cultures in their schools.
The award, created in 2015, honours the memory of Samantha Mason, a 15-year-old Winnipeg girl who took her own life after being bullied for years in school.
This year’s awards went to Ayub Farah of Winnipeg and Isabel Carter of Thompson, who were selected to receive the award by Samantha’s family.
“It was really surreal,” said Isabel. “I wasn’t expecting it at all.”
The Grade 12 student at Thompson’s R.D. Parker Collegiate said she was shocked to learn that she had won the award, not knowing that members of the Blue Bombers team, including brothers Nick and Noah Hallett, had set up a presentation for her during a pep rally at her school last Tuesday.
“I just went thinking I was helping for a pep rally… [but] I got pulled to the side to stand and wait for it to start,” she said.
“Then all of a sudden they play this video, and then they called me up, and I was just standing there and just wasn’t expecting it. It was really exciting, though,” she said.
“All my friends were cheering for me, which was really fun to have.”
Parents, teachers and coaches can nominate students for the annual anti-bullying award, which is presented to young people who are taking action to eliminate bullying in their schools or communities.
The subject is one Isabel feels very strongly about, and she says she hopes to continue doing her best to prevent it when crops up in her school.
“I have always grown up just to learn to love people and to be kind to everyone,” she said.
“So when you see something happening that you know is wrong … then you don’t want to stand for it, because some people just stand to the side.
“I can’t accept that, personally.”
Her parents, Laura and Tim, said they are proud of their daughter and the example that she is setting.
“It’s nice to be recognized for being kind, because it’s not something you might get noticed for,” said Laura.
“We are very excited to see our children living what we’ve taught them, in their school and their work,” said Tim.
Visiting the north
In addition to their visit to Thompson, the Blue Bombers’ tour of the north this month also includes stops in three northern First Nations as a part of the CFL’s TryFootball initiative, which aims to give young people who might not otherwise have the option a chance to play the sport.
“We recognize the need for youth in those northern communities to … [have] access to this football equipment,” said Savannah Ginter, community relations co-ordinator for the Blue Bombers.
“Oftentimes, we would find out that a lot of communities, they play a lot of sports … but that football wasn’t as accessible, because you need the flag football kits and you need the footballs themselves, and sometimes that can be hard to obtain,” she said.
“So in an effort to kind of make that more accessible for the communities, we put together this initiative so that we can go visit them and really just make the kids feel special.”
Members of the Blue Bombers organization visited Shamattawa First Nation this week, following their stop in Thompson.
They’ll head Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation (also known as Nelson House) on Monday and O-Pipon-Na-Piwin Cree Nation on Wednesday.
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