Thompson will host a flag football camp for the second year in a row on the first weekend of June, with up to 200 youth from Northern Manitoba learning the game from experts including coaches and players from the University of Manitoba Bisons and the Winnipeg Rifles as well as Winnipeg Blue Bomber alumni.
The camp is sponsored by HOPE North, the Burntwood Suicide Prevention Committee that is co-ordinated by the Burntwood Regional Health Authority.
Camp organizer Kurtis Stolth, a Manitoba Bisons alumnus who works with the BRHA's community mental health team, says the goal of the camp is to prevent suicide by promoting life through sport.
"I see a lot of social and systematic barriers for kids in the North and I just wanted to help these kids the best way I know how and that is football," Stolth said in a news release announcing the camp. "Our overall goal is to prevent suicide and give a healthy recreational sport that is affordable for those in need."
The camp is free for the first 200 youth between the ages of 11 and 17 who register. In addition to instruction in football, there will be a barbecue on the first day of camp as well as free lunches the next two days and a pancake breakfast on the third day.
Last year, 185 youth registered for the camp, with more than half coming from outlying communities such as Gods River, Brochet, Split Lake, Nelson House, Lac Brochet, Lynn Lake and St. Theresa Point. Guest coaches included current Blue Bombers quarterback Buck Pierce and offensive lineman Glenn January as well as players and coaches from the Bisons and Rifles.
Stolth says 20 people have already registered for this year's camp, which runs from June 1-3 and will offer adults the opportunity to be certified by Football Manitoba as coaches and referees, who will then be given a package to start flag football leagues in their home communities.
"Last year a foundation was created and many communities in the North had never played football and now you often hear of five to 10 kids playing football, which was the vision when we set out," Stolth says. "The vision is to have youth attend from every community in the region."
The rate of attempted suicides by people aged 10 and up in the Burntwood region is four times as high as the provincial rate, according to Stolth.