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Flames Foundation helps support Calgary sports equipment charity

by George Johnson / Calgary Flames
Russell Gillespie, general manager of Comrie's Sports Equipment Bank, Bill Comrie, and Al Coates, chairma. Photo Credit: Elizabeth Cameron/Postmedia Calgary Herald

-- For Bill Comrie, recollections of the need come first-hand.

“I grew up in a low-income family,’’ the Brick furniture founder is saying Tuesday, outside the newly-renovated 3,700-square foot storage facility for Comrie’s Sports Equipment Bank in Southeast Calgary.

“One year, I remember, my (hockey) equipment didn’t fit for tryout. Then a fellow came along and gave me equipment from Lost and Found.

“His generosity, his caring, changed so much for me. Because so many of the skills I learned playing sports, I’ve taken with me into the business world.

“Getting that equipment … I know what meant to me as a young person; to be able to play a game I loved.

“Playing hockey, playing any sport, shouldn’t be a luxury. That opportunity should be available to everyone.

“So I want to help out in any way I can.”

The charity’s goal is to gather, recycle and redistribute “gently-used” sports equipment to those who qualify and has been formed via partnership between the Comrie family, the Calgary Flames Foundation, Hockey Canada Foundation, Hockey Alberta Foundation, the Western Hockey League, Calgary Hitmen and KidSport Calgary.

Approximately 8,000 youngsters a year in the Edmonton area, where the idea was hatched and has grown a remarkable reach, are given equipment through the initial distributing project, Sport Central, founded in 1991.

The newer Calgary/Southern Alberta arm, came to fruition in 2014, has to date helped outfit 689 young men and women with over 10,000 pieces of equipment.

And, adds chairman Al Coates, they’ve yet to scratch the surface of those kids who qualify.

Tuesday, the new warehouse facility, where donations can be dropped off during business hours, was officially unveiled at 3557 52nd St. SE, in Erin Woods Plaza.

Equipment fittings are done by appointment only.

“At the time we got this rolling” - spring of 2014 - “it was really difficult to find warehouse space because the city was really booming,’’ says Coates, a longtime Flames’ executive. “I bet I put 1,000 miles on my car driving around, searching for a suitable space. It had to be centrally located because part of this is making it easy for families to get to the location.

“I guess the driving paid off.

“Here we are.

“The support has been nothing short of phenomenal. The Calgary Flames Foundation steps right up - they’ve always been a huge supporter of the game in this community. Hockey Calgary steps right up. KidSport steps right up. Hockey Alberta. Individuals like Gerry Wood of Woodbridge Lincoln. Everyone was like: ‘Tell us, what do you need to make this work?’

“It’s just typical Calgary.

“What we wanted to eliminate any financial barrier to a young person playing sports. Of a mother and father telling their son or daughter: ‘Don’t talk to us about hockey because we simply can’t afford that.’

“This is in everyone’s best interests. We need kids playing. We gotta keep them involved, off the streets, out of trouble.

“And we can’t afford to miss out on another Gretzky or Lemieux in this country because they fell through the cracks over a lack of finances.”

The hope moving forward is to establish similar satellite warehouses in Red Deer, Lethbridge and Medicine Hat with Calgary as a hub.

“Our plan is to expand this,’’ says Coates. “The need is not just here. This need is everywhere.

“Outside the province, people in Kamloops and Winnipeg have expressed interest, too. But right now, we’re concentrating on building the format here in southern Alberta.

“We have to get ourselves organized first but we think we’re close to that stage now; where we can think about branching out.”

The aim is lofty. The hours of commitment, long but rewarding.

The benefits, incalculable.

Bill Comrie, the driving force behind it all, knows only too well.

“We’ve had so many wonderful things happen during we’ve been operating Edmonton. And we’ll experience those kinds of things in Calgary, too.

“A boy came in once, he was 10 years old. They had nothing, he didn’t have any equipment so we suited him up and he got to play.

“Years later he wound up making the Alberta Golden Bears team and now his mother donates her time to helping us out.

“We give back. That family gives back.

“Everybody wins.

“I mean, how great is that?

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