Grade 12 student Joshua Nwachukwu had every right to be excited at the Special Olympics Ontario Draft an Athlete fundraising campaign launch on February 5 at Central Etobicoke High School.
The initiative is aimed at attracting businesses, communities, schools and Canadians to rally behind the effort to sponsor athletes for the first ever Special Olympics Ontario Invitational Youth Games in the Greater Toronto Area from May 14-17.
Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders, who is the Games’ honourary chair, selected the 17-year-old track & field athlete as the first athlete drafted.
“I am happy the Chief took me and I am prepared for the Games,” he said.
Nwachukwu, who was chosen to carry his team sign in the Games’ opening ceremony, has autism.
“Joshua does really well with some of the barriers he faces,” said Mark Nicholson who is his physical education teacher. “He’s very engaged and outgoing. He loves dancing and music and he wants to be a disc jockey.”
Nearly 2,000 athletes will attend the Games.
The Toronto Police Service is the host organization.
“We are incredibly excited about the Games and the opportunity once again to be actively involved with the movement, especially this year which marks the 50th anniversary for Special Olympics worldwide,” said Saunders. “What happens in four short days in our great city will create a once-in-a lifetime experience and legacy not only for those competing, but for all of us. Supporting the draft is one way to be part of that legacy.”
A track and field athlete can be drafted for $1,000. Small and large teams can be drafted for $5,000 and $10,000 respectively.
We want to draft every single athlete that’s attending the Games
“We want to draft every single athlete that’s attending the Games,” said Cody Jansma, the Ontario Law Enforcement Torch Run business development director. “We don’t want any of them to be subjected to a cost.”
The estimated cost of assembling the athletes is $2 million.
“This is no small feat,” said Glenn MacDonell, the president and chief executive officer of Special Olympics Ontario. “But we have witnessed many times over the power of Canada’s generosity. We hope groups from small and large towns and from cities, be they Rotary clubs, sporting clubs or school groups, will be inspired. We also hope to encourage the countless businesses, big and small, across Canada who likely have an athlete and/or team right in their local community.”
Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Jake Gardiner drafted five athletes.
They are Jada Clarke, Julian Fabbri, J’uquan Lawrence-Sappleton, Louis Osawaru and Maitri Pate.
I am incredibly humbled and truly inspired by these incredible athletes for what they accomplish on and off the field
Gardiner is a huge Special Olympics supporter.
“Toronto is so often in the spotlight for so many amazing things, great sporting events, huge victories and loyal fans who show their love of this city’s teams and their legacy,” he said. “These Games stand to have another kind of legacy, one that brings out the best in all of us.
“I am incredibly humbled and truly inspired by these incredible athletes for what they accomplish on and off the field. Without a doubt, I will be rooting for all the athletes who are from this school, which is in the same community where I train.”
Stephania Varalli, the co-chief executive officer of Women of Influence which champions diversity and inclusion, drafted Trinity Earl, a Grade 10 student at J. Clarke Richardson Collegiate Institute in Ajax.
She’s a soccer player.
“These Invitational Youth Games comes at a time when the issues of diversity and inclusion are so very front and centre in our society,” Varalli said. “I personally invite every business in Canada to get behind these athletes, their coaches and their dreams. There are 2,000 athletes to draft and tens of thousands of businesses coast to Canada. Canada, this is your moment to step up.”
Athletes will compete in track & field, basketball, bocce, soccer and floor hockey.