Reed Clarke charts new course for rebranded Sport Edmonton

· The Pulse

Sport Edmonton, the rebranded version of the city-funded Edmonton Sports Council, is working to create community legacies from major sporting events that come to town, and to empower grassroots play.

"It starts with a seat at the table when the City of Edmonton, or Explore Edmonton, or (the Oilers Entertainment Group), or some of the other groups are actually going to pitch for these large sporting events," Reed Clarke, the newly minted CEO of Sport Edmonton, told Taproot. "Part of them coming to Edmonton is leaving a legacy behind for the community."

One example of how Clarke and Sport Edmonton are doing that is by creating a Women's National Basketball Association (better known as the WNBA) themed court at wîhkwêntôwin School, formerly known as Oliver School. It will be ready ahead of when the league makes a much-anticipated appearance on May 5 at Rogers Place, with the Los Angeles Sparks taking on the Seattle Storm.

"We're more connecting people (for the court). We don't have a huge budget or funding for it, but we know there are groups who want to be a part of this, and we're putting all those pieces together," Clarke said.

Other legacy projects will be created in conjunction with the IFAF World Junior Championship football tournament (June 20 to 30) and the Hlinka Gretzky Cup hockey tournament (Aug. 5 to 10).

Using connections to make things happen is a theme throughout Clarke's work. He's the former CEO and owner of the Edmonton Stingers, the brain behind that team's Fresh Nets non-profit program (in which new nets are installed at under-maintained basketball courts), and the owner of the retro-sports clothing line Ross Flats, which recently merged with compatriot clothing company City of Champs.

A desire to give more to the community is why Clarke has taken his new role at Sport Edmonton, as well as leading the rebranding and changed focus of the organization.

"I realized the power of sports in community," Clarke said about his decision to leave the Stingers. "I wanted to make that community side even more impressive, and I think for something like the Stingers, there's so much you can do there, but it is kind of a short season."

Another new focus for Sport Edmonton is to help communities organize grassroots-level sports events. Clarke said his organization can connect communities with grants, permits, and other elements that make hyper-local events possible.

"There's a lot of bigger sports organizations that know how to apply for these grants," Clarke said. "There's a whole 'nother sector of local communities who want to run a soccer tournament or want to run a 5K fun run. They might have no clue on actually how to get that off the ground. So, how do they run it operationally? How do they market it? How do they sell it?"

Three people gathered in a bar hold up a Sport Edmonton t-shirt and an Edmonton Oilers jersey for a player called Skinner.

Reed Clarke (left), is the new CEO of Sport Edmonton, the evolution of the Edmonton Sports Council. Here, Clarke holds up a branded t-shirt during an April 4 event for KidSport. (Supplied)

Sport Edmonton is almost entirely city-funded. The organization recently lobbied council to increase its budget for attracting large sporting events.

Every city-serving agency can do more with more money, Clarke said, but his focus now is creating a proof-of-concept for the organization's new direction.

"Is more funding needed? Of course it is. I don't think that's a shock to anybody," Clarke said. "With the operating budget I currently have, what I've said to city council and to the City of Edmonton, is that I'll make the most of this, and prove the value of what Sport Edmonton can be … There'll be an ask for increased funding (in the future)."

One of Sport Edmonton's goals is to increase inclusivity in sports. While Clarke did not have a direct response about the province's proposed legislation to mandate gender essentialism in sports, he said he feels everyone should be welcome to participate in the way that feels comfortable for them.

"We're all about inclusion — the more people participating in sports and recreation, the better for everybody," Clarke said. "A lot of times, people grow up in areas they don't really get to interact with different cultures and people until they get into sports."

Sport Edmonton is also working on a basketball court at the John A. McDougall School based on a design by artist Pete Nguyen. The organization will run Basketball 101 programs at the site this summer.