Between enrolment, equipment and the need for teams to habitually crisscross the North to play something as routine as a basketball or a volleyball game, the cost of keeping a child in organized sports in the NWT can be staggering.
For some families, the need to fundraise is of paramount importance, which is how Fort Smith resident Merrick Arey found himself in the middle of a fast-food reselling venture last week.
Arey bought dozens of McDonald’s hamburgers in Yellowknife to resell them in Fort Smith so his son could attend a volleyball tournament.
“We have Tim Hortons in Fort Smith and we appreciate having it,” said Lisa Mitchell, the boy’s mother. “But for people who don’t get out of the community very often, having a Rotten Ronnie’s burger is kind of a treat, so a lot of people when I delivered the burgers were laughing.”
Mitchell’s son, Trace Arey, a Grade 9 student at Paul William Kaeser High School, is an avid student athlete.
His team won gold at the Lawrie Hobart Memorial Volleyball Tournament in Fort Smith last month, which earned them a spot at last weekend’s Spike It! volleyball tournament in Yellowknife.
Trace and his teammates competed in the tournament but to pay for the boy’s meals and a $330 bus fare to Yellowknife, Mitchell launched a proven fundraising idea she learned while growing up in Inuvik.
“I remember being young and people would come in off the plane with a bunch of burgers,” she said. “Usually Big Macs or Tim Hortons and through word of mouth be like, ‘Hey we’re selling this in front of the Northern Store. If you want one come on down.’”
Her partner, Merrick Arey, happened to be in Yellowknife last Wednesday after a friend who owns a taxi company asked him to drive a client from Fort Smith to the capital.
“The guy needed a driver and my spouse has a Class 1 (licence),” explained Mitchell.
Figuring her neighbours would pay a premium for McDonald’s, Mitchell pitched her scheme on a Fort Smith community Facebook page.
Her clients would be allowed to order a maximum of five burgers that would be hand-delivered within eight hours if they paid a $10 delivery fee.
Eight customers came forward and Merrick was dispatched to the Walmart McDonald’s where he ordered 30 burgers and 20 orders of chicken nuggets at a cost of about $175.
Fries were forbidden as it was assumed they wouldn’t travel well.
“I got a special request from a friend of ours who wanted quarter pounders, fries and chicken nuggets and I was like, ‘Whoa take it easy buddy, I don’t know if you’re going to want those fries because he’s going to drive back,’” said Mitchell.
Merrick purchased the order at around 3 p.m. and immediately started the long drive back to Fort Smith, arriving at around 11 p.m.
“The cab stunk like McDonald’s all the way back,” said Mitchell.
The food was delivered to grateful customers and the entire enterprise netted the couple $80, which they gave to their son, she said.
How do you keep 11 Big Macs, 10 cheeseburgers and nine quarter pounders with cheese fresh and tasty after spending nine hours in the backseat of a car? You hold the lettuce, of course.
The decision to go sans-lettuce on all burgers meant they were still appealing, even after spending all that time in the back of a taxi, said Fort Smith resident Ashleigh Stokes.
“The food is great because it is a treat to have McDonald’s,” said Stokes, who ordered four cheeseburgers. “It’s still good. It’s still delicious.”
When NNSL Media reached Janine Martin, another customer, the food was still in her fridge.
“We’re going to check it out at lunchtime today and see how it is,” she said.
Word of Merrick’s McDonald’s run had spread to Trace’s school.
“My son was like, ‘Mom, my teacher just told me that someone was selling Big Macs on Facebook and in my head I thought it’s got to be my mom,’” said Mitchell. “I think he was embarrassed, slightly.”
Though the sum was relatively small, the money will help keep Trace in organized sports. The teen plays hockey, volleyball and basketball and is signing up for Arctic Winter Games trials, which represents a substantial cost to his family.
“Plus you have tournaments,” said Mitchell. “These tournaments are costing anywhere between $1,000 and $3,000 between hotels and meals. I made a joke yesterday and said we’re going to have to cancel Christmas.”
Mitchell’s worries are shared by a number of Canadians. According to a 2014 study, one in three of the nation’s kids are not participating in organized sports because it’s too expensive.
The study, commissioned by CIBC, identified enrolment fees and equipment costs as the two major barriers that stop children from participating.
Canadian parents are spending an average of $953 per year for a child to participate in a sport, according to the study, which found 82 per cent of survey respondents knew a child who had been prevented from playing a sport due to the cost.
Still, Mitchell said keeping her son in sports is worth the price.
“Sports are keeping him away from making poor antisocial lifestyle choices,” she said. “And he and his buddies are often at the house and they all play the same sports. So if I have to pay … for these sports for my kid, just so I can get them through a healthy childhood and keep them busy, then I’ll do that.”