When shots rang out in his community of Preston, claiming the lives of two young people, Coach Colter Simmonds, Founder of the We Will Win Youth Association (3WYA), felt he'd failed.
“I felt hopeless. I’d moved home to make a difference. I was trying to get an education to become a true role model. I blamed myself and wondered if it was too late.”
As a young person, Colter spent much of his youth travelling back and forth between Toronto and Nova Scotia. A bad reputation, hotheadedness and lack of discipline had him careening down a risky path.
“My friends were in and out of jail. Getting killed. I didn't want to get caught up in that violence. I was always walking a fine line, but I also had a loving family and a love for sport that kept me out of some really bad situations.”
We Will Win Association
Colter says he long saw similarities between Toronto and North Preston, and feared the historic, Nova Scotian community was on its way to a negative place. He was confident that sport could make the difference and enrolled in Recreation at Truro Campus
Colter launched 3WYA 1999. “Back then it was just Colter Simmonds, fill a van and let's go play ball!” It wasn’t until completing his diploma, that the says he had the tools and knowledge he needed to grow the organization into what it has become today.
“NSCC was me on a piece of paper. I felt accepted and respected. I was doing a program that felt like a part of me.”
Today Colter works with youth-at-risk generally — placing a particular emphasis on African Nova Scotian youth — to encourage community, athletic and academic achievement.
“We teach life skills including anger management, understanding sexualized violence, knowing and communicating boundaries, financial management, healthy eating, career exploration and leadership.”
Since 3WYA’s official inception, over 500 youth have participated in programming and gone onto post-secondary studies and athletic competitions across North America.
Laugh Out Violence
Each year the 3WYA must raise a minimum of $200,000 to travel to competitions in Ontario, Quebec and the United States.
In 2017, Colter planned and hosted the first of what would become an annual event to raise funds for the group. The event also brought much-needed attention to violence in the community, which claimed the lives of three men — including Colter's friend and fellow coach Tyler Richards (29).
Laugh Out Violence is a comedy and performance arts show featuring comedians, live music and dancers. One goal of this year's event is to create three scholarships — one for each of the high schools that Colter has worked at — to enable participants in 3WYA to pursue post-secondary education.
Colter believes that with the right combination of academics, leadership and athletics, young people can become leaders and inspire others.
“If you're exposed to positivity, then there's the likelihood of living a positive life," says Colter. "Working towards a common goal, pushing yourself to achieve, fighting for what they want — if you can make that connection with young people, and show them how those are transferable skills, they can do anything.”