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Charity big winner in Pros vs. Joes contests

Palms were sweaty, knees were wobbly and there were countless cans of non-perishables, some very likely destined for mom’s spaghetti pot.

Winnipeg students of all ages faced off against peers and professional athletes Thursday, as they competed in an annual Rock, Paper, Scissors tournament for charity in the St. James-Assiniboia School Division.

Grade 6 student Ben Cherwinski took the top prize.

The 11-year-old, who attends Lincoln Middle School, defeated more than 50 opponents, including Winnipeg Blue Bombers players Brady Oliveira and Nic Demski.

“It’s really just luck,” Ben said, after accepting a plastic trophy on a podium set up in the gymnasium at Sturgeon Heights Collegiate.

The elementary schooler did, however, admit he is superstitious: rock is the superior option of the three.

Phys-ed teacher Deborah Einarson Woods started organizing the contest 13 years ago, as part of a week-long series of fundraising events dubbed “Pros vs. Joes.”

The idea, as well as its title, pay tribute to a reality TV show that pitted amateurs against sports legends and first aired in 2006.

Einarson Woods said interest quickly became overwhelming so the high school developed an entry competition — its own version of The Amazing Race — to narrow down the number of “Joes.”

“Every year, it gets bigger and better,” the teacher-founder said, adding “Joes” become hyper-local celebrities throughout the fall term.

The series builds student compassion, confidence, creativity, leadership and fundraising skills, Einarson Woods noted.

During the inaugural competition, about $1,500 was raised. Upwards of $40,000 in money and food items has been collected this year.

The donations will go toward holiday hampers distributed to needy families in the neighbourhood.

“I just love being able to help people out — especially around Christmas, because I love Christmas. It was a perfect opportunity,” said Erin Bickell, a Grade 11 student who earned her place as a “Joe” as a result of her early fundraising success during the pre-series race.

The daily “Pros vs. Joes” contests at Sturgeon Heights, typically held during the first week of December, include blindfolded musical chairs, “basketball and bump” and a lip sync battle. More than 20 elite athletes are slated to take part in the 2023 edition.

Thursday’s Rock, Paper, Scissors competition drew young competitors from eight elementary and middle schools across SJASD, in addition to the teenage “Joes.”

The hour-long event featured an emcee, spotlight, pump-up music, pre-game show with videos of competitors and post-competition commentary.

The stands were packed with peers and teachers who hollered and cheered on their favourites throughout the main event and the matches that followed.

The 16 fastest participants to win five one-off games were entered into a second round. Quarter-finalists, semifinalists and finalists then competed in a best-of-three format.

Hundreds of games of Rock, Paper, Scissors were played in the gymnasium over the lunch hour.

B.C. Lions running back Kienan LaFrance described the scene as “electric.”

The Sturgeon Heights alum said it is always nostalgic to return to his alma mater.

He was among the first students to participate in “Pros vs. Joes.” Now, the CFL player is on the opposite side of the competition.

“It gives kids a chance to meet some of the guys they look up to and some of their peers — but also, I hope they take away that they’re putting it on for a good reason,” LaFrance said Thursday.

“That’s what it’s all about.”

maggie.macintosh@freepress.mb.ca

Maggie Macintosh , Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press