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On a crisp mid-May morning in 2019, a small plane lands on a town in northern Saskatchewan of no more than 3,000 locals.
While tranquil, there is an electricity in the air akin to a September afternoon from Mosaic Stadium.
Welcome to La Ronge, Sk. The Roughriders are coming to town.
It’s time for the Annual Northern Football Jamboree, a football skills camp for young local players in the area. The instructors for the weekend are some of the biggest athletes in the province; Naaman Roosevelt, Ed Gainey, Brendon LaBatte, Zack Evans and Charleston Hughes. Each of them filled with excitement and eagerness for what’s to come.
For two days, these athletes will foster what could be the next wave of local talent to grace the CFL, but this showcase of skills and learning is not exclusive to the football field alone. This mid-spring camp is also a workshop on character development.
It provides youth with the opportunity to try a new sport, find their identity and grow as young adults. They will learn positive values like how to be a leader, how to work as a team and the principles of hard work.
This camp also allows for Roughrider players to become immersed in an environment much different than that of their weekly duties as professional football players. They become mentors, teachers, guidance counsellors and friends. More than that, the players become embedded into the community. Players and taking advantage of one-on-one time with individual kids, learning about their stories and understanding their backgrounds. Players also meet with members of First Nations communities, participating in traditions and learning different aspects of their culture.
Over a hundred young football players who attend the camp will learn route-running basics from Naaman Roosevelt, get hands-on teachings from lineman Brendon LaBatte or get a 101 “crash” course in pass rushing from perennial defensive lineman Charleston Hughes.
While the football knowledge this group of kids learn is invaluable, so too are the life skills that are instilled. The lasting impacts on the health and wellness of these young children cannot be understated in its importance. They learn to make positive choices, be a leader in their community and discover a dedication to a sport they love from their heroes.
Through sport, new bonds are formed, and confidence is found. Quite simply, this annual weekend event is bigger than football. This is exactly the impact that the Saskatchewan Roughrider Foundation is working to instil through events like the Annual Northern Football Jamboree.