Training ground

A Canadian club helps sports — and scholarships — reach more students.

By Cindy Dashnaw

When you can’t afford college and aren’t in the top 10% of your high school graduating class, sports can open doors to scholarships. But do those doors open equitably? Do all athletes, regardless of racial and ethnic backgrounds, have the same chance at college sports scholarships?

The Kiwanis Club of Hamilton East in Ontario, Canada, says no. That’s why they’re partnering with the Steel Town Athletic Club (STAC) to prepare students with diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds to compete for spots on their high school sports teams — and to excel when they get there. 

Since its charter in 1940, the Hamilton club has focused on a section of the city where poverty and a lack of recreation options lead young people into trouble. Vincent Kuber, a personal trainer who runs the nonprofit STAC, grew up there in the 1980s and ’90s. Not much has changed, he says.

“I was the only brown kid playing ice hockey,” he recalls. “Now I’m almost 40, and statistics show the situation has only gotten worse for these kids. College is far less attainable for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) students than expected. They don’t get an opportunity to see college as an option, even through sports.” 

Their schools often don’t have budgets for quality sports equipment, Kuber adds. Working parents can’t get kids to afternoon soccer leagues, afford sports registration fees or travel to away games — even when the rare opportunity arises. 

Kuber’s proposal: Offer no-cost elite personal training. Hamilton East Kiwanis Club members quickly embraced the idea and committed to providing the facility, equipment, staff and ongoing financial support.

“We see a real need for targeted outreach and programming for BIPOC youth,” says Milja Minic, the club’s manager of community programs and services. “They face a multitude of barriers to participation in sports and academic pursuits. Our approach is to partner with experts in areas that help remove those barriers. Vincent’s approach of inclusion, quality and accessibility aligned with our mission, vision and values.”

Participating students get three months of preseason training. For example, students train September through November to be in condition for basketball tryouts, or May through July for softball. Coaches also teach yoga, breathing techniques and stress relief. 

“It’s personal, elite-level training to build resilience and confidence,” Kuber says. “Most importantly, the training lets them feel it’s possible to do well enough in a sport to make a team and earn a scholarship. That’s the goal.”

This story originally appeared in the March 2022 issue of Kiwanis magazine.

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