TORONTO — CFL stars James Wilder Jr., Mike Reilly and Brandon Banks are all fathers, so they know the value of a stable environment for children.
The trio earmarked separate children’s charities for donations after securing the top three spots in the 2017 Shaw CFL Top Performers program. Wilder, the Toronto Argonauts running back, donated $25,000 to Covenant House — while provides shelter for homeless youth — while Reilly, the Edmonton Eskimos quarterback, allocated $15,000 to Adarius 4 Autism, which was founded by former teammate Adarius Bowman for youth diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
And Banks, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats speedy receiver/kick returner, donated $10,000 to the David Lane Youth Successful Fund at John Howard Society through Give Proof To Our Youth in Hamilton.
"I’m always trying to impact and affect youth," said Wilder, a 26-year-old father of four children aged five and younger. "Some of these kids just need opportunity, they just need a chance.
"I’ve visited Covenant House … and it just inspired me. To have these kids from everywhere who haven’t been dealt a winning hand, I want to be able to give them chance at a better life. They’re our future.
"I think by visiting we’re showing we’ve not forgotten them," he said. "We’re with them."
The CFL and Shaw Communications announced Monday that Shaw would donate $50,000 to the Canadian charities selected by the league’s top performers.
The six-foot-three, 227-pound Wilder topped the Top Performer standings. The former Florida State star was the CFL’s top rookie after registering 1,405 yards from scrimmage (872 rushing, 533 receiving) and helped Toronto win the Grey Cup.
Reilly finished behind Wilder after capturing the CFL’s outstanding player award. The 33-year-old was the league’s passing leader (5,830) and finished tied with Ottawa’s Trevor Harris for most TDs (30).
Reilly and his wife, Emily, are expecting their second child in August. The Reillys have a daughter, 18-month-old Brooklyn.
"Once you become a parent, you have your eyes opened to how kids are the No. 1 priority, how they’re everything," he said. "Brooklyn has been very healthy but there’s been a couple of times when, say it’s a Saturday night and she’s had a very bad virus that turned into a very bad cough.
"Fortunately we have the means to take care of her and not think twice about it but not everyone does. For parents who don’t have the ability or means to do that, I can’t imagine that feeling."
Reilly and Bowman were Edmonton teammates for five seasons before Bowman was released this off-season and joined the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Reilly said watching Bowman build Adarius 4 Autism from the ground up made the decision to donate easy.
"When we first started playing together I was just starting to date my wife and he wasn’t even dating his current wife," Reilly said. "Fast forward five years later we’re both married, we both have little daughters, we’ve become grown men with families.
"He’s put in much of his own time, money and emotional everything into trying to build his charity. It’s not like he said, ‘Hey, you can use my name for this.’ When I was told about the opportunity to donate, that was the first place that came to mind because I’ve watched first-hand how important it was and how he’s truly trying to make a difference."
Banks finished third after a banner ’17 season. The five-foot-seven, 150-pound speedster had 67 catches for 1,011 yards and career-high eight TDs. It was the five-year veteran’s first 1,000-yard campaign and his 11 touchdowns overall (Banks also had two rushing and one punt return) were another milestone.
"It’s one of the top organizations in the city," Banks said of his chosen charity. "I’ve been dealing with that organization pretty much since my second year here and I thought it (donation) was a good thing as far as what we need in the city of Hamilton."
Banks — a father of children aged seven, six and four — feels it’s important athletes give back to the youth in their community.
"It’s very, very very important," he said. "It’s showing kids anything is possible, and not just as an athlete but any dream they have.
"I think people have to see those who’ve actually gone through it to understand anything is possible."
Banks, 30, says he’s living proof of that because he was raised by his father as his mother had a drug addiction. Banks has also been able to succeed in a sport dominated by much bigger players.
"I didn’t have the most growing up," Banks said . "I know what it’s like having been in that position myself.
"If kids see a good role model and someone doing something positive, I think it gives them another outlook on things."