CFL, Argos to play key role in massive tri-city Play for Tomorrow event

Andrew Bucholtz
The Play For Tomorrow events this weekend in Toronto, Palo Alto and Kansas City will bring together sports teams, community development organizations and engineers to try and improve sports access for the underprivileged and find solutions to maximize the impact of development programs. (Play4Tomorrow.com.)

One of the most interesting sports summits in some time is taking place this weekend in Toronto, Kansas City and Palo Alto, and the CFL and the Toronto Argonauts are heavily involved. Play for Tomorrow is a community event taking place across North America to address the challenges and barriers faced by under-served youth, discuss the current state of youth and community development activities undertaken by sports organizations, and find new ways to enhance the impact of those initiatives.

Organizations involved include the Kansas City Royals, San Francisco 49ers, San Francisco Giants, San Jose Sharks, You Can Play Project, Urban Youth Academy, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, the Argonauts and the CFL, and the event will be overseen and run by the Kauffman Foundation, Kauffman Fellows, StartX, and Toronto's  Ryerson University's iBoost Zone (where former Argonauts' and Tiger-Cats' defensive tackle Brian Bulcke is the director of innovation). It's a fascinating multi-level approach to addressing the issues faced by underserved youth and finding ways that teams and leagues can improve their community development initiatives.

JP Silva, the director of community engagement at the iBoost Zone, spoke to 55-Yard Line about the event recently, saying it will involve speakers, panels and hack-a-thons to come up with solutions. He said Play For Tomorrow came about through these organizations wanting to have a wide conversation about these issues, which led to running three events in three cities this weekend and involving local sports organizations.

"We're working with a series of partners, the Kauffman Foundation in the U.S., the Kauffman Fellows, the incubator at Stanford," he said. "All of these groups, us and those three partners, we basically decided to do this event about youth development through sports and technology. So in each of these cities, the partners have engaged with pro sports teams and community development organizations, and they're bringing them into the event to do problem-opportunity statements. And then, at the very grassroots level, we're trying to find entrepreneurs, designers, engineers, anyone that is interested in engaging in the space, in this intersection of youth and sports and technology, to then try and kind of redesign and rethink development and sports and basically amplify some of these activities, take them to another level."

Silva said these events will provide plenty of opportunities for the involved teams, leagues and organizations to engage with each other and come up with new ideas on this front, and that high-level people from each will be involved.

"We're going to have Wendy Guillies, she's the president of the Kauffman Foundation, Jeff Harbach, he's the president and CEO of the Kauffman Fellows, Mark Donovan, he's the president of the Kansas City Chiefs, Wade Davis Jr., he's executive director of You Can Play and also a member of He for She," Silva said. "And here in Toronto, we're going to have Michael Bartlett, he's the executive director of the MLSE Foundation, Tanya Mruck, she's the executive director of the MLSE Launchpad, Michael Copeland, president and CEO of the Toronto Argonauts, a few board members from You Can Play including David Palumbo, then Michael Woollatt, the CEO of the Canadian Venture Capital and Private Equity Association. And these are just some of the speakers, we're going to have a lot more."

He said the event's remarkable because it's such a broad attempt to bring everyone together to tackle wide-reaching issues that apply in all of these markets.

"It touches on so many things, so many social issues, such as youth development, and within youth development, there's quite a few things that matter, like physical literacy, education, social inclusion," Silva said. "All of these are going to be pillars that are going to anchor activities during the hack-a-thon, so we're going to try to encourage teams to engage with all of these things separately, although they all sort of fall into youth development at large through sports. ...We're bringing in the organizations, the pro sports teams, the community development organizations, the pro athletes, the designers, engineers, the community at large, and then taking them through all these important aspects of youth development and trying to get them to develop or rethink sort of the more ambitious products and services that can be developed for supporting youth development through sports and technology."

Silva said it's incredibly beneficial for Toronto and its sports organizations to have access to a wide-ranging event like this, especially as all of these cities, teams and leagues are facing similar challenges in trying to maximize the value of their youth development programs.

"This is really a theme that cuts across all the communities, all the pro sports teams, across all the community development organizations," he said. "It's about trying to bring technology and fresh thinking into youth development through sports. It's not that these organizations are not doing the work, they're doing brilliant work, but what we've been pushing here at iBoost and also at StartX at Stanford is to try and organize these hack-a-thons so these organizations can spend a bit of time with people that come from outside their own activities and have them think about their own activities, their own challenges and see if there's any new products, new services, new technologies that can be developed. In a sense, it's like opening up the conversation, not just with the ones who are engaged on the day-to-day activities, but basically trying to evolve society, the communities at large, into addressing these challenges. As you can imagine, these are very complex and far-reaching issues, so if we can generate a conversation that cuts across North America, that cuts across pro sports teams across all these cities, youth development organizations across all these cities, and brings together engineers and designers and entrepreneurs from these three cities to look at these challenges, it's going to be a lot more powerful and create a lot more potential than if you were just going to limit this to a single city or a single group of pro sports teams or a single group of youth development organizations."

One of the key figures in this is Bulcke, the former Argonauts' and Ticats' defensive tackle who's the iBoostZone's director of innovation (and also has major Stanford ties; he played for the Cardinal from 2006 to 2010 and graduated in 2011 with a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering and a master of science in management science & engineering. Silva said Bulcke (who's helping to oversee this event in all three cities) played a major role in pulling this together.

"He's been great, he's really been the driving force behind this event," Silva said.

Bulcke told Yahoo earlier this year that he sees tremendous potential for athletes to create positive social change through technology, especially when they can work with those on the tech side.

"I really think by combining athletes, whether current, former, professional, amateur, Olympian, combining them with the engineers, that's when you start seeing some really awesome technologies come out," he said. "Then you have the depth, the knowledge, the expertise of the sports industry, and you marry it with brilliant engineers. ...The more you can massage the two together, and Ryerson's doing a really amazing job of that, that's something pretty cool."

The event runs Friday through Sunday in each city, but Silva said the impacts from it will hopefully last even longer and will make a big difference for sports development programs in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and beyond.

"We're going to incubate the teams that are going to be selected by the jury at the end of the hack-a-thon, so they're going to be incubated here for six months," he said. "And there's going to be a lot of engagement between these teams and the pro sports teams and the athletes and the community development organizations, not just here in Toronto but also in Kansas City and Palo Alto. So this is a story that will continue on not just for six months, but for the future, because we really want the teams that get selected, that get incubated, to really develop products and services that are key for youth development for the next 10 years or so. It's really a story that we think is going to produce a lot of fruitful results."

For more information on Play for Tomorrow, check out their website at play4tomorrow.com.