Sport Central provides kids with what they need to succeed in sports and beyond

When David Fuga died after being struck by a car on his 18th birthday, his friends and family honoured his memory by giving back to their community.

As his younger sister Jackie Fuga says today: “Hockey was his life.” He was a happy-go-lucky sports enthusiast, and raising money for The Brick Sport Central, an organization that provides low-income children with sports equipment, seemed the most appropriate way to remember him.

This “unruly group of teens” raised more than $15,000, and the David Fuga Memorial Fund was created at Edmonton Community Foundation (ECF).

To grow the fund, the group of 15 friends started volunteering and raising money through car washes, parking cars in the Northlands area during K-Days and they even ran a 50/50 draw at an Oilers game. They also volunteered every Saturday at Sport Central where they would help repair hockey equipment and bikes.

“Everyone’s gone on to do something,” says Jackie. “A lot of success came out of that group.”

Jackie, who was only 15 at the time of her brother’s death, became president of the group. She learned to brainstorm ideas, organize events, fundraise, volunteer and, most importantly, work with other kids.

The following summer, the group organized a hockey camp called Laugh Loud, Laugh Lots where Jackie ran dryland fitness training classes for the young hockey players. “I realized I wanted to become a teacher – I found my calling. It’s so much fun being with kids all day. It’s like playing,” she says.

Today she teaches physical education at Steele Heights School, and is thankful that her parents nudged her to organize this group of volunteers where she has learned so many valuable skills.

The other members of the group, now all in their late 20s and early 30s, have also grown up and found their callings.

“Everyone’s gone on to do something,” says Jackie. “A lot of success came out of that group.”

Matt McDermand, who participated in the Fuga hockey camp, also benefitted himself as a young child thanks to Sport Central. Sport Central started off small, helping 600 kids in its first year. Today it is a big enterprise, outfitting 8,000 kids a year, and distributing more than $2 million worth of equipment. It operates out of two buildings just north of Rexall Place and relies on dozens of regular volunteers, including 15 part-time bicycle mechanics.

For most volunteers, seeing kids, like McDermand, who otherwise couldn’t afford it walk out with a bag of reconditioned hockey equipment, makes it all worthwhile.

From the time he was a toddler, McDermand wanted to be a goalie. He could barely stand, but his parents say he mimicked the actions of goaltenders on Hockey Night in Canada, flailing his arms and falling when they fell. His dreams of standing between the pipes might have never come true if it wasn’t for Sport Central. Growing up in a low-income home, McDermand got his first pair of skates when he was nine.

“The next year I was in Sport Central and they had me suited up and I was playing organized hockey. It definitely wouldn’t have happened without Sport Central,” he says. He kept going back year after year, and “whatever didn’t fit me I’d return and they’d suit me up with something that fits.”

Being able to play hockey made a big difference in his life. Growing up in a pretty rough neighbourhood, it would have been easy for him to slip into an undesirable lifestyle like some of his former classmates in elementary school who now have criminal records. But hockey played such a big role in his life that he didn’t have time to get in trouble with the law.

The Fuga hockey camp was a highlight for McDermand as well as the kids who were being trained. “Grant Fuhr came out one day,” he says. “The kids were really pumped to be on the ice with a former NHLer.”

Now a graduate student in cell biology at the University of Alberta, McDermand is one of many success stories to come out of Sport Central since 1991.

And so is the David Fuga Fund. The members of the group embarked on careers and marriages, it has continued to grow under the stewardship of Edmonton Community Foundation. The fund now stands at $24,000 and Jackie says that “the goal is to support programs and organizations that help kids who don’t have the money to achieve their sporting goals.”