A mom and her four children in an older, small car were overjoyed when each of the kids received a bike at Sport Central.
“There was obviously no way they could get all the bikes into the car and we offered to drop them off in our van,” says the charity’s Jim Harvey.
“But the youngest boy, aged about five, hung desperately to his bike. I’m sure he thought he would never see it again if he let go.”
Sport Central’s mission is to retrieve, repair, recycle and redistribute sports equipment to needy kids and Harvey says there is a story behind each of the 2,500 bikes given away every year.
“We also give about 4,000 pairs of skates annually to children in lower income families who qualify for them,” said Harvey. “About 55 per cent of our inventory is hockey equipment and the value of our equipment given away is about $3 million annually.”
Christmas is coming says the bike wizard, the former general manager who mainly now helps rebuild and service bikes when he’s not helping customers. (Waves of customers are expected. You can help demand by dropping off no-longer-used gear taking up space in your garage or attic.)
“Skates and bikes are the most sought-after sports items,” he said. “But we carry just about everything. A more difficult ask was for a cricket bat. We found one.”
In the 7,000-square-foot building at 11847 Wayne Gretzky Dr., there is every type of hockey stick, helmet and hockey equipment, every kind of sports jersey, cross-country skis, roller blades, basketball gear, skateboards, lacrosse gear, soccer balls and soccer cleats, tennis and badminton rackets and golf clubs.
Directly north is a 5,000-square-foot building that is home to many hundreds of bikes being given a Sport Central work over.
Wilf Brooks, who has sold his popular United Cycle store to family members, was keenly instrumental in gathering friends and business people together, including the legendary Cecil “Tiger” Goldstick, to launch Sports Central in 1991.
“Wilf asked now-Oilers’ coach Ken Hitchcock, who was sharpening skates at United Cycle and was assistant coach of the Philadelphia Flyers at the time, what a good name might be for the charity,” says Sport Central executive director Sheldon Oleksyn.
“Ken suggested ‘Hockey Central.’ But it was changed to Sports Central when equipment for several sports was donated. As well as bicycles, we now carry equipment for 13 sports.”
NHL and CFL players, amateur sports organizations, local sports stores, the city, school boards and countless individuals have donated to help fund Sport Central for 27 years.
Edmonton-raised refugee-cum-soccer-star Alphonso Davies, 17, transferred to Germany soccer giant Bayern Munich from the Vancouver Whitecaps for a record-breaking US$22 million transfer deal, recently sung the praises of Sports Central on his web page.
“More than 145,000 youngsters in 25 Alberta communities have been helped, as well as those in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, the NWT and some Arctic communities,” said Oleksyn.
“Qualified families in Edmonton are referred to Sports Central from some 210 agencies and there are about 50 locations, including police and fire stations, where gently used sports equipment can be dropped off.”
The Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation (EOCF) has announced an initial investment of $325,000 to Sports Central in support of the Dave Semenko Legacy Project, with financial support from the National Hockey League and National Hockey League Players’ Association Goals and Dreams fund.
The community foundation has committed to fund two Sports Central initiatives: Dave’s Drive and Put a Lid on a Kid over the next 10 years.
Here’s a shot on goal from Harvey: “It’s better to invest in getting kids into sport rather then let them drift onto the streets. If we don’t give them a team to play on, the bad guys will. Kids in sport also make friends and learn how to handle the ups and downs of winning and losing we all meet in life.”