The Roughrider Foundation first met Derek Lafrenie and his family at the Ronald McDonald House for a Christmas dinner, while they were in Saskatoon receiving treatment for their seven-year-old daughter Maria, who just so happened to be the biggest Rider fan in the whole place.
While our story with the Lafrenies was just getting started, the family already had a long history with the Roughriders. That history also happened to start at the Ronald McDonald House where they were staying with Maria while she was being treated for a heart condition that requires periodic stays at the Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital.
“We were in kind of a bad spot,” Derek Lafrenie said.
“My daughter was really sick, and to be honest, we weren’t sure if she was going to be able to ever come home.”
“Another parent invited me to sit down and watch the game with him and at that point, I had never watched a whole football game in my life,” said Lafrenie. “I kind of got hooked right from there. It was that that community spirit thing where he didn’t try to talk to me about what was going on. He just wanted to watch a football game with me.”
Having moved from Ontario on the cusp of the 2013 Grey Cup without really knowing anything about the CFL or the Roughriders, the Lafrenie family was greeted with a sea of green and a buzz around the province, something he had never experienced before.
“We’re watching it and we can hear this sound and it’s really loud, kind of like a roar,” said Lafrenie. “Eventually we open the door, and I can hear the fans from the stadium and, you know, we’re blocks away.”
“It just showed that people are passionate about the team and they’re passionate about the community that the team belongs to.”
That community feeling is something the Saskatchewan Roughrider Foundation strives to create. Focusing on our three pillars — education, health, and amateur football — the Foundation looks to create moments with youth and families that help them make priceless memories and reduce barriers to being a part of the community.
In April of 2023, The Foundation was thrilled to play host to the Lafrenie family at Mosaic Stadium for a tour led by a family favourite and Foundation player ambassador, Mitch Picton.
“I don’t even know how to describe it,” said Lafrenie.
“Even running into (Kian) Schaeffer-Baker and Frankie Hickson and the way they were playing with the kids, that’s probably something they’re never going to forget, and that’s something outside of game day that was special just for them.”
Having had opportunities to relocate to other areas across Canada, Lafrenie said there is one major reason the family has decided to make Saskatchewan their permanent home.
“You might have other things in your life that are not perfect,” he said. “Things are going on and there’s a lot of distractions and life’s hard today, but when you come to a game, it’s just a game that you’re worried about and everything else is gone.”
“It provided an opportunity to pull this family together when everything felt like it was falling apart.”
He added that coming to Saskatchewan Roughrider games has helped his family build an identity and the sense of community they feel here has made the province feel like home rather than a stop along their journey.
“It sounds funny that a football team might keep you, but it’s more than the football team,” said Lafrenie. “It’s the community that owns that football team that really made us feel welcome.”
“That’s why we never moved back away. This is our home now. We’re not leaving.”