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Amateur sportsA different kind of champion

Posted: Thursday, December 2, 2010 | 09:42 AM

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Rick Gill wouldn't approve of me writing this. He may never know.

Rick Gill wouldn't approve of me writing this. He may never know.

Gill is a former University of Victoria basketball player who also toiled in South African and Australian professional leagues. Now he's a high school teacher in British Columbia and he spends most of his time doing good works. He does them in anonymity.

Rick Gill is a different kind of hero.

I first became aware of him when I visited Cape Town and the depravity of the all-black township called Khayelitsha, in advance of the FIFA 2010 World Cup.

There, Gill's efforts to make sport a healer of wounds was in full view. The girls who played in the desperate streets wore Tim Horton's jerseys and sneakers that Gill and his disciples had sent to South Africa on behalf of a humanitarian outfit known as Soccer4Hope.

Mark Crandall, the founder of the organization, referred to Gill as "our champion in Canada." I thought, 'How appropriate to call him that because from a great distance, for people he had never met, Gill ensured that the magic of play was still alive.'

Gill called me the other day to tell me about his latest venture - his wish to get the children of Haiti basketball equipment. Gill said that basketball is a beloved sport in that country and maybe, just maybe, it could offer some salvation in troubled times.

"The kids in Haiti right now need something else to focus on other than the devastation that is before them every day," Gill figured. "I think it would be great for the kids to get basketballs and shoes so that they can go and play even for a few hours and have fun and forget briefly about their reality."

I hope Rick's dream becomes a reality because watching the news about fixed elections and cholera epidemics in Haiti can be overwhelming. There has to be a glimmer of something better.

I got another e-mail from the University of Calgary Dinosaurs women's soccer team. Because of a conversation with Rick Gill, they're on a mission to raise $50,000 and travel to South Africa to help Khayelitsha.

"Those young girls have nothing down there," said Morena Ianniello, a team member. "If we can share our passion for soccer with them and make them smile through soccer, then our mission is complete."

It's the way Rick Gill works. He deals in hope and how we can all make a difference.

Gill is a champion of a different kind.  The kind of champion I'd like to know.

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