Hundreds of Londoners that have joined a new recreational sports organization are striving for more than just a trophy — they’re also playing for a chance to direct a portion of league fees to a charity of their choice.
The unique twist is the brainchild of Connect Sports president Steve Barry, a 26-year-old Londoner who recently returned to The Forest City with a sports management degree from Brock University and an eagerness for entrepreneurialism.
“Once I came back to London I tried to get involved with a couple different organizations here and just thought there could be a different way to run things,” Barry explained. “It’s one of those things where, as an adult, you can get out, have some fun and know that a portion of your registration is going to something local.”
Barry began building the foundation for Connect Sports nearly a year ago by hosting drop-in soccer games at Greenway Park near Springbank Drive and Greenside Avenue. Fast forward 11 months and Connect Sports is now accepting registrations for six different sports over three seasons and has already donated around $2,000 to a number of local charities.
This summer, Barry is organizing six leagues and around 500 co-ed participants in recreational sports like soccer, ball hockey, flag football, ultimate frisbee, beach volleyball and soccer baseball. Most leagues include about six teams, with the winners donating about $120 to $140 to their preferred charity.
“As the leagues grow, we can increase that amount,” Barry said.
Originally focused on young professionals between 19- and 35-years-old, Barry said he’s also working to establish Connect Sports Kids, funding the offshoot by redirecting $5 from each registration fee going forward. He said the idea is to set up rec leagues in east London for kids that might not otherwise have an opportunity to play organized sports.
Throughout his undergrad at Brock, Barry returned to London to work at Thames Valley Golf Course but was laid off last winter. After discovering through research a demand in London for more adult rec leagues, he successfully applied to the Ontario Self-Employment Benefit program administered by the London Small Business Centre.
(Available over the past 23 years, the program is being phased out by the province next year, much to the disappointment of Londoners who have witnessed its success here despite low uptake elsewhere in Ontario).
“A lot of people I talked to (said), ‘I just want to play once a week … I want to meet some new people,’” Barry said. “I’ve been reaching out a lot to companies to try and get employees involved so we’ve got a couple teams from London Life (and) a couple teams from digital companies downtown, so it’s definitely good incentive for these companies.”
Barry is also discussing his idea with Pillar Non-profit Network as he considers registering the company as a charity in itself or perhaps going the social enterprise route. His long-term goal is to prove the model works in London before pitching to small and mid-sized cities elsewhere in the province.