The Hamilton Spectator
Kids’ right to run and right to succeed
Former footballer’s program teaches fitness and reading
Eight-year-old Tristian Routledge is struggling with the laces of his brand new Saucony running shoes when Brian Warren stoops to help.
Warren is a former defensive end who spent 12 years in the CFL and USFL. He was born in Phoenix to a mother who spent 48 years as a teacher.
His time in football exposed him to the neighbourhoods around stadiums, such as the former Ivor Wynne, where he saw kids in need. One in six kids lives in poverty in Canada, he discovered in 2000, when he started Start2Finish. In Hamilton, the figures were bleaker.
“Poverty we will have. But child poverty, we can do something about that …. Everybody has the right to succeed,” Warren said.
Start2Finish Running and Reading Club’s mission is to break the cycle of child poverty and offer educational support.
Warren said the once-a-week program starts with kids identified by teachers in Grades 1-6. Program graduates are encouraged to come back and mentor the younger participants.
“We believe they have to pay it forward,” said Warren. The volunteering can earn them scholarship for post-secondary education.
This week, he was at Dr. Edgar Davey Elementary School to watch as participants in Start2Finish, a program he founded after football, received new running shoes. At Dr. Davey, 60 students are involved in Start2Finish.
It started with 150 backpacks for kids at 10 schools. Since then, Start2Finish has morphed into a free 32-week program for students to learn how to run, get a nutritional snack, and then spend time reading. The backpack program still exists.
This year, the program is expected to reach 9,500 children coast to coast with the support of almost 700 volunteers at 37 schools. In Hamilton, the program operates at Dr. Davey, Bennetto and St. Ann.
“We run their tongues out for the first hour, then we give them a healthy snack,” Warren said. The program is trying to teach grit and determination. When they’re finished, 900 students from the area will run a five-kilometre race at York University.
The aim was to set a significant goal for the kids, Warren said.
“It’s not getting them over the hurdles. It’s knocking down the hurdles because that will help them
in other areas of their lives.”
Locally, the program has handed out $12 million in school supplies and for after-school programs with support from Hamilton Community Foundation, ArcelorMittal Dofasco, Mayberry Family Fund and East Investments Inc.