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We Need More Teens in Sports, Not Prison

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Even though the sport was invented by a Canadian, the news that a canuk was named top high school basketball player in the U.S. comes at a surprise to many. The award named for Ontario-born James Naismith, previously given to NBA star LeBron James, was bestowed upon Andrew Wiggins. Even the Prime Minister took to Twitter to salute the young black Canadian and son of immigrants.

The 18-year-old from Vaughan, Ont. is averaging 23.6 points, 11.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 3.4 steals and 2.1 blocks per game. Surely many American colleges are pining for the teenager to join their ranks and dominate future NCAA March Madnesses.

It is interesting to learn that Wiggins' parents were both world-class athletes who came to Canada from abroad. His father, Mitchell Wiggins, starred at Florida State before embarking on a nearly 20-year pro career that included being the first-round pick of the Indiana Pacers in '83, playing in the NBA Finals with the Houston Rockets in 1986 (against Larry Bird, no less) and in 1989-90. His mother, Marita Payne, won two Silver medals for Canada in track and field at the 1984 Olympics. While his father was often absent to do his career overseas, sports have been a positive outlet for all the Wiggins children (and the Subban clan as well)

It was in 2000 that then-Secretary of State for Amateur Sport, the Honourable Denis Coderre,noted in a Parliamentary Standing Committee that:

• 90% of those polled said that sport was related to culture in Canada;
• More than 9.6 million Canadians take part in amateur sport;
• Fully 87% of the people feel we should finance more amateur sport;
• 78% say it reduces the crime rate;
• 80% of the people feel there's a direct link with health benefits;
• With respect to crime, the figures that came out of the Mills report show that 92% of young girls involved in sport will never become delinquents. Sport has a direct impact on one's quality of life.
• Economic growth: Amateur sport represents 378,000 jobs in Canada. Its economic impact amounts to $8 billion.

The last two points relate to two of PM Harper's pet themes: crime and economics. It is curious that the Harper government has not put its money where its mouth is when it comes to funding amateur sport, considering the taxpayer-funded till has been opened wide to finance non-essential programs like the War of 1812 celebration, the G8/G20 summit, to name just two.

"In my opinion, amateur sport represents an investment and not an expenditure. If we were to increase by 10% the number of Canadians actively involved in sports, we could save up to $5 billion a year in health care costs."
- Denis Coderre on February 8, 2000

As the "tough on crime" Administration continues attacks on criminals -- both real and imagined -- it behooves a responsible government to include crime prevention in the equation even as Harper expands Canadian prisons.

Funded via Sports Canada, amateur sports and youth programs yield more than the occasional Naismith award, they build the lifelong skills that Canadians of all origins value: character, teamwork, discipline, perseverance. And most of all, they build the citizens all Canadians can be proud of.