When six CFL players entered the Sprucedale Youth Centre, a juvenile jail 90 miles outside Toronto, they were after a victory of another kind. Meeting with seven street-savvy jail-hardened teens unaccustomed to trusting adults, the football players had their work cut out for them. Part of the Argonauts' "Stop the Violence” initiative—the first outreach effort of its kind, pairing pro athletes with juvenile prisoners—that first meeting kicked off a six-week pilot program.

With two visits per week, Sprucedale officials say it's the best program the center has ever seen. "The players have gotten to places with these kids that the staff has not,” says deputy superintendent Melanie Ferdinand. "This is the most powerful and intense program I've experienced in 21 years of working with high-risk kids.”

The players, not strangers to tough neighborhoods and tough times, say they can relate to the kids. Linebacker Chuck Winters grew up in Detroit's Herman Gardens housing projects and lost a brother in a drive-by shooting. Free safety Orlondo Steinauer split with his parents at 15 and raised himself on Seattle's streets. Linebacker Michael Fletcher was once a second-generation gangbanger from Compton. He served two stints in youth jails before he got serious about sports.

Continue reading this story in the October ‘06 issue of KING (#36)