CBC Sports

Amateur sportsSports Day: National Jersey Day in Ottawa

Posted: Friday, September 28, 2012 | 08:22 PM

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Scott Russell of CBC Sports hung his Sports Day in Canada T-shirt on a lamppost at Parliament Hill in Ottawa Friday, thus framing it against the Peace Tower. Scott Russell of CBC Sports hung his Sports Day in Canada T-shirt on a lamppost at Parliament Hill in Ottawa Friday, thus framing it against the Peace Tower. "It seemed the natural thing to do," on National Jersey Day, he says. (Scott Russell/CBC Sports)

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When you're young, sport often requires that you become part of a group and accept the responsibility of joining a team. All in all, Jersey Day at Elgin Street Public School in Ottawa on Friday was one great, big, team-building exercise.

On the last morning of our five-day, five-city, cross-country tour, I went to Parliament Hill in Ottawa and hung my Sports Day in Canada T-shirt on a lamppost, thus framing it against the Peace Tower illuminated by the bright, blue sky.

On National Jersey Day it seemed like the natural thing to do.

Then I went to Elgin Street Public School and attended the student assembly where every one of the hundreds of kids there was wearing the jersey of one team or another. Represented were the colours of the Ottawa Senators, Montreal Canadiens, Toronto FC and mostly, the maroon and white of the Elgin Eagles.

On this day, everyone was a part of the team.

gosal-bal_300.jpg There was Bal Gosal the federal Minister of State (Sport) resplendent in his Team Canada kit from the recent London 2012 Olympics. Gosal has proven a tremendous proponent of sport during his tenure in the cabinet.

He came here as an immigrant from India's Punjab region in 1980 and represents a riding in Brampton, Ont., which is overwhelmingly comprised of first generation Canadians.

In communing with Canadian sport, Gosal has learned that it may be part of the key to inclusiveness and breaking down barriers in this country.

'Sport builds healthy communities'

"It's important to be involved in sport because it builds healthy communities," he reckoned.  "Ice hockey is the fastest growing sport amongst South Asian Canadians.  You can see that every day where I come from in Brampton."

Indeed, a quick look at the faces of the children gathered at Elgin Street School on Jersey Day confirmed Gosal's message. There were boys and girls of so many cultural backgrounds and racial identities. But regardless they all looked so Canadian, perhaps because of their choice of team jerseys, more likely because of their willingness to gather together and embrace the moment.

watson-jim_300.jpg"Sport is the great unifier and equalizer," Jim Watson told me.  Watson is the popular mayor of Ottawa who sported a Senators sweater while openly praying that the NHL would soon return to action.  But on Friday he seemed focused on what other kinds of sport mean to the youth of his community.

"It gives us a sense of discipline and respect that makes all of us better," Watson said.

The students heard an inspiring presentation from Mark Hatfield, a former professional football player who struggled mightily to make teams throughout his career. But he ended up starring as an offensive lineman with Bishop's University in Sherbrooke, Que., the Canadian Football League's BC Lions and Miami Dolphins of the National Football League.  Now he spreads the word as a member of a group called the "Esteem" Team.

Later, everyone engaged in a rigorous set of choreography led by Ottawa native and World tap dancing champion Darin Kyle.  By the end, they were huffing and puffing, but mostly smiling because they had somehow managed to stay in unison with their dance partners to the left and right.

All in all, Jersey Day at Elgin Street Public School in Ottawa was one great, big, team-building exercise. And it reminded me how important the collective aspect of sport has the potential.

Accept responsibility

It's true that sport can be pursued on an individual basis and sometimes the only opponent is the clock - the sole rival being the person inside. But when you're young, sport often requires that you become part of a group and accept the responsibility of joining a team. 

kids-thumbs-up-300.jpgIndeed, the word "we," is commonly used by Canadians in association with sport.  When the team each of us supports is victorious it is "we" who proclaim it publicly.  For those of us old enough to remember, the Team Canada triumph over the Soviets in hockey's Summit Series 40 years ago is remembered as a victory of "we" over "them."

It's good to be part of a team. It's inclusive and comforting.  It's also a reflection of the way in which the country has grown and prospered over the years.

Leave it to an immigrant who is now the Minister of Sport to nail the significance of playing the team game from coast to coast to coast.

"It's amazing what happens when you put on that jersey," Bal Gosal said, as he motioned to the red and white letters across his chest.  "You become a different person."

I think he was saying you become a little bit more Canadian.

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I want to say a big thank you to Kelly Murumets of ParticipACTION and Karri Dawson of True Sport who paved the way for our whirlwind cross country tour in advance of Sports Day in Canada and our ultimate destination in Niagara Falls.

They helped us connect with families, coaches, teams, facilities and feelings that give sport such a powerful message in Canada.

I'm also indebted to producer Bill Cooney who never missed a beat and ensured that we kept focused on the goal line.

All in all, we discovered a nation that holds sport close to the heart and is increasingly aware of its value to the health of its future.

Now everything comes together in Niagara and we celebrate our third annual Sports Day in Canada on Saturday at noon ET.

We'll see you on the field of play.

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