Several members of the Saskatchewan Roughriders visited Estevan on Sunday night to speak at the fifth annual Athletes in Action fundraising barbecue.
Keynote speaker Keith Shologan was joined by teammates Barrin Simpson, Wes Cates, Cary Koch and Luca Congi at the dinner, held at the Estevan Curling Club.
“Athletes in Action is a Christian organization and the guys here are all involved, so this is just a good representation of the team and we want to give a positive role model for the kids to look up to,” Koch said in an interview.
“The younger generation of football players, it’s good for them to see positive role models, to have them in a good light, instead of some of these other athletes who are in the wrong section of the newspaper.”
The evening, organized in part by Riders chaplain and Estevan native Barret Kropf, included a steak supper and live and silent auctions, along with speeches from the players.
Shologan, who lost two sisters in a well-documented car accident when he was in Grade 10, spoke about how his family’s faith helped them get through that ordeal and cleared his path to professional football.
“I got to play football, which I loved, which was a big thing for my family at the time too because I had a real family tragedy in my life. But God was there to push us through that,” said the defensive tackle, who was named top Canadian in last year’s Grey Cup loss.
“(My parents) were able to just hold onto Him. I’ve never seen a family just bind so close together,” he reflected.
Shologan began playing in Grade 4 on a junior high team. The coach had expected him to show up and change his mind on playing when he saw how big the others were, but it didn’t turn out that way.
“He saw me and said, ‘He can play,’” Shologan laughed.
His big break came when he attended a football camp in Kitchener, Ont., and met a coach from his future college, Central Florida. But he almost didn’t go to the camp.
“I had cramped up there the year before and I hated it. But God told my dad, ‘He needs to go,’” Shologan said.
“If God hadn’t pushed me there, I wouldn’t have been there.”
Kropf said the message was an important one for the people who attended, including players from Estevan’s minor football program.
“I think it’s just awesome how they were able to come out here and hear their heroes from the Riders talk about their faith adventures,” said Kropf.
“People say, ‘What’s the turnaround with the Riders?’ Coach (Greg) Marshall is a great guy, but one of the things Coach (Ken) Miller instills is not only family, but he talks about faith. He says, ‘Make sure faith is a priority.’
“He’s bringing that unity back in terms of the faith aspect. You can’t just ignore the internal part of your life.”