The Ottawa Redblacks were back on their home turf Friday night and the only thing they had to worry about fumbling was perhaps a fork.
They were part of an exciting new benefit dinner — Gourmet on the Gridiron — organized by the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG)’s new charitable foundation at TD Place Stadium at Lansdowne.
The evening drew a sold-out crowd of roughly 400 supporters and raised close to $200,000 to help more children and youth in our community have the chance to play sports and stay active.
It was an idyllic summer night for eating al fresco. Adding to the charm were the bright lights and stadium bleachers that surrounded guests as they enjoyed dinner together on the field, right on the yard lines.
The Redblacks greeted arriving guests before they passed through the team’s giant inflatable helmet and onto the field for cocktails and dinner. The athletes remained a big part of the night, whether it meant participating in a quick on-stage word-guessing game, teaching guests how to properly throw a spiral or to kick a field goal, or giving tours of the locker room.
Even the team's mascot, Big Joe, got involved, He served canapés during the cocktail reception.
TSN's Kate Beirness emceed the dinner with the OSEG Foundation’s honourary president, former Redblacks quarterback Henry Burris. Burris, who's now co-host of CTV Morning Live Ottawa, was warm and gracious with attendees, even letting guests wear his 2016 Grey Cup ring while they posed for photos with him and the Grey Cup trophy on display.
Organizers were able to build on the success of the all-women training camp that the OSEG Foundation held in June. The Redblacks players did a great job of leading the drills and making it a fun event. “We saw how much the players thrived when engaging with the community,” said OSEG Foundation’s executive director, Janice Barresi, adding that the team was equally enthusiastic about participating in Gourmet on the Gridiron.
Attendees included team coach Rick Campbell, general manager Marcel Desjardins, as well as prominent Ottawa businessman John Ruddy and Ottawa Fury president John Pugh, both of whom are part of the OSEG ownership group.
Also seen were OSEG’s new CEO, Mark Goudie,and his predecessor, Bernie Ashe. His brother, former tech executive Rob Ashe, is a member of the OSEG Foundation board. So are former mayor Jim Durrell and Algonquin College president and CEO Cheryl Jensen.
It was the cause of youth and sports that drew Jensen to the role, as well as OSEG’s strong leadership. “You can tell they’re not only looking to win football games but to be an integral part of the community,” said the Hamilton-raised football fan.
From the political crowd were Mayor Jim Watson and city councillors David Chernushenko and Allan Hubley, and Ottawa South MPP John Fraser, who's also interim Liberal leader.
Special guests included CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie, who gave an inspiring speech about the role football can play in a kid’s life.
“There is no sport like it in the world because football is the most inclusive sport anywhere,” he said, adding that all-star players come in all shapes and sizes, from 300-plus pounds down to 165.
“Show me a game anywhere where kids can come of literally every body type. You can be big, you can be small, you can be slow,” the former CFL offensive lineman said with a chuckle before adding: “I’m evidence of that, by the way. You can be fast, you can medium-sized and football coaches can find a place for kids to be a star.
“We need more kids involved with football. This game changes lives. It makes kids feel good about themselves at a time when kids are struggling with self-esteem.”
The commissioner also praised the CFL athletes for giving so selflessly of their time to the communities in which they play. “I would say, pound for pound, there’s no league and no sport where the players give more than the players of the Canadian Football League,” said Ambrosie.
As well, he lauded OSEG for the way it has run its franchise over the past five years. “They contribute not only to their own success but they contribute in a very real way to the success of the Canadian Football League.