In the Game

Leif Welz opens an endowment fund for student athletes proving you’re never too young to leave a legacy

Many young adults consider philanthropy a goal for their later years. Once they have established careers of theirown, that’s when most start to think about giving back, maybe to support someone like their younger selves in achieving their goals.

Leif Welz is one of those adults now, but at just 27 years of age, he’s found a way to encourage student athletes to develop more well-rounded skills in sport. He’s been coaching football at Strathcona High School since 2011, and recently established the Leif Welz Fund for Multi-Sport Athletes with Edmonton Community Foundation (ECF). Each year, the fund will offer an award to a post-secondary student that participates in multiple sports during their studies.

The idea for a multi-sport fund was inspired by Welz’s own experience; he played with the varsity football team at the University of Alberta in his first two years of a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology and Economics, and eventually expanded his extra-curricular involvement to become a more well-rounded athlete.

“During that time I met a number of athletes that did football as well as track and field, and you could see there was a big difference in their development; they were stronger, sharper,” Welz says. In 2007, he decided to get back into track and field while maintaining his studies – and playing football at the same time.

“It was a very positive experience, it helped shape my present day character,” he says. “With the award, I figured it would be a good way to motivate the kids that I coach now.” To be eligible for the award, postsecondary students must participate at the varsity level on more than one team. “I want students to know that people can do this, that it’s possible to go to university and be on more than one team.”

As for getting the fund started, Welz says that ECF was suggested by one of his coaching mentors at Strathcona High School as a possible avenue for setting up a student award. Once Welz determined his goals for the fund, ECF helped him shape the parameters for his idea of a multi-sport student prize.

“Most donors that come through our door have a very good idea of what they want to accomplish, they just may not have expressed that to anyone before,” Kathy Hawkesworth, Director of Donor Services at ECF says. “In Leif ‘s case, he was a multisport athlete and that worked for him, so he’s wanting to build a fund to provide that support for athletes.”

“It was a very positive experience, it helped shape my present day character.”

Hawkesworth notes that while Welz is in the process of building his fund to the $10,000 threshold, which is required by ECF before a fund can begin granting on its own, he is also supplying additional annual funds so that awards can be given in the years before the fund matures. Once a fund reaches the granting level, donors may choose to build the fund further or simply allow it to grant in perpetuity on principal interest. “To me, to have a young person commit to putting $10,000 towards a charity, whether it’s today or over 10 years, I just think it’s absolutely amazing.”

She adds that Welz’s efforts put him in league with other high-profile donors that came to ECF with a desire to support young athletes. A now-retired Edmonton lawyer who coached football at St. Joseph’s Composite High School, for instance, started the RoyA. Philion Fund; the fund’s goal is to award players that demonstrate sportsmanlike conduct on and off the field.

“It’s neat that we see a couple of donors that are generations apart, both doing something for young people in the community,” Hawkesworth says.

While Welz’s fund maintains that multisport participation is key, students should also demonstrate leadership and athletic skill, all while maintaining their grades.

“They’re not just athletes; they’re called student athletes for a reason,” Welz says. “I think it’s important that those kids going out of high school demand more for themselves, and get more out of life.”