Toronto city councillor Doug Ford handed out new basketball jerseys to a group of youths Tuesday, debuting the newly launched Rexdale Raiders team at the TCHC complex in North Etobicoke.

Like his brother, Mayor Rob Ford, the councillor for Etobicoke North said he and his staff will coach the team. The mayor coaches high-school football for the Don Bosco Eagles.

Ford said his staff would be volunteering their time to help the young athletes in the troubled Rexdale neighbourhood, which has had more than 20 shootings this year alone.

Ford said one of the aims of his basketball program is to help youths stay out of trouble.

"We know what they're doing. Everybody here. Community. It's a very good place," Ford said.

The community housing complex locked the doors to the gym two years ago after someone broke a window.

Ford said that when he learned that neighbourhood children weren't able to access the sporting facilities a year ago, he started up the weekly basketball program.

'The 1st week we had 70 kids'

"I put a notice up in both buildings, and the first week we had 70 kids," he said. 

Local youth between the ages of six and 20 were invited to play, and about 50 attend each week, according to a press release from the councillor's office.

Ford helped pay for the new Rexdale Raiders jerseys that he distributed on Tuesday, and also got the Toronto Raptors and ParticipACTION on board as sponsors for gifts and prizes.

The councillor said he would like to see more kids in basketball uniforms in other community housing complexes across the city. He said he's in talks with Scarborough and would like to see corporate sponsors get involved.

While Ford was energized about the launch of the Rexdale Raiders, critics have pointed out that the initiative isn't so different from the kinds of youth development initiatives that the mayor dismissed over the summer as "hug a thug" projects.

As for Ford's thoughts on what his brother would think about his efforts, he joked that the mayor might be more interested in stealing young talent to play for his Don Bosco Eagles.

"Would Rob call this a 'hug a thug'? I don't know what he'd call it," Ford said. "He's come by a few times to try to recruit for football."

 

With files from CBC's Amanda Margison