Burris chip off old block

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:57 AM ET

As a child, Henry Burris never had to search for a positive role model.

His father, Henry Burris Sr., provided that and more while young Hank was growing up in rural Spiro, Okla.

While the town was so small it had just one traffic light, trouble was always lurking.

Kids without a father figure to set an example could easily be led astray. While the elder Burris' career path touched thousands of kids from all over the state, Henry was also affected by the generous actions of his dad.

"In my eyes, he's the ultimate Big Brother," says the grateful son, kicking off the inaugural Henry Burris All-Star Weekend tomorrow to raise funds for Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Calgary.

The Stampeders quarterback envisions the charity fundraiser as his way of reaching out to youngsters in our community, just as his father has done for decades back home.

"He's done such great work with kids in all the communities, getting kids in college from poor neighbourhoods, things like that," Burris says.

"He's always been a social worker, dealing with kids in the public schools, helping to keep them out of jail. He's been doing that forever and he opened my eyes to that type of cause, helping out in that way."

While his father was setting an example in Eastern Oklahoma and Western Arkansas, saving kids from the streets, young Henry was making mental notes, preparing to one day pick up the torch. Becoming a father for the first time last month just drove home the message more profoundly.

"My father set a great precedent for me as far as ingraining in me the idea you've been blessed with two hands -- one to work with and the other to give. As long as you have two, you should be doing both.

"I definitely took that message to heart: Treat people how you would want to be treated."

Henry Burris' first taste of reaching out to youths came in high school. He went through the process of being interviewed and accepted by Big Brothers, then mentored a little brother in Spiro.

Burris again got involved while attending college at Temple University where the mean streets of Philadelphia lured kids into a life of crime and drug abuse.

"I participated in a lot of outreach programs with Big Brothers and Athletes in Action," Burris recalls. "They always did mentorship programs where athletes would go to speak to the younger kids in grade schools, talk to them in class and spend time with them, and that's how I got started.

"I have such a great time doing it, being a positive role model for kids in years to come. I had to continue that here."

Now Burris' All-Star Weekend -- a celebrity dinner tomorrow night at the Westin Hotel and a softball game Sunday at Foothills Stadium, involving high-profile athletes from the CFL, NFL and Olympics -- is being launched to take that message of giving and caring to Calgarians, who in turn can reach out to young people in this community.

"We want to focus on kids because violence and drug abuse is at an all-time high," Burris says.

"The sky's the limit with this type of event. It will continue getting bigger and better every year."


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