Emmanuel Bisirat’s dream is to play soccer. It always has been.
“It’s not kicking a ball and trying to score; it’s having fun with your friends and living the game,” says the 12-year-old who came to Canada from Ethiopia 10 years ago.
Free Footie night is his favourite night of the week, a chance to play organised soccer, something his family could not afford otherwise.
Free Footie was founded six years ago by CBC Edmonton’s Tim Adams. Coaching soccer in the years before, he noticed there were some kids in the city who couldn’t afford to play.
“The kids here really appreciate it since they get to play with their friends for free with no registering,” he said. “It’s pretty much you ask to join and you’re in.”
The program started with four teams.
Six years later, more and more kids are getting the chance to kick a ball around. There are now 76 teams in the Free Footie league, with about 1,200 players.
The program works with 40 schools in communities where the city’s poorest families live.
“There are kids here from all around the world. There’s lots of newcomers, refugees; there are kids coming from the outlying reserves around Edmonton,” Adams said. “There are kids whose families have been here forever, but just need a little bit of extra support. But I can tell you being around these kids, I would be proud to call them my own.”
With so many kids playing, the number of volunteers including referees and coaches continues to grow, now around 300.
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