Former CFL, NFL player Ollie Dunlap devotes time reading to children at Toronto school

Oliver Dunlap is a humble man with a fascinating story.

‘Ollie’ as he’s known to many, was born and raised in the United States. He loved playing sports and excelled at many, yet Dunlap developed a passion for the game of football as a running back, and went on to have a stellar career with the NFL and CFL.

Today at the age of 78, Dunlap has a different focus in life – making sure children have the opportunity to soar when it comes to reading.

“I was born in 1941, in Mississippi, and my grandparents were not allowed an education. My great grandparents were slaves. I was picking cotton when I was five years old, so my grandmother used to always tell me, ‘read, read,’ Dunlap said.

“She always said to me, ‘If you can read, you can become anything you want, anybody you want, you can do it.’”

And he did. Dunlap was well educated and well respected by his peers both on and off the field. Fast forward to retirement and Dunlap was still searching for something.

Eight years ago he found it in a reading program called PALS at William Burgess Elementary School in Toronto.

“Ollie is incredibly important to this program, because he makes the program happen,” said David Mac, a teacher at the school.

“Mr. Mac has 20 to 25 students. They read and they move on the next subject, there’s no interaction about the story because Mr. Mac is there to teach a curriculum,” Dunlap said.

“The difference I try to make, is when the children go back to their classroom, they’re not reading words, they’re actually reading thoughts. I try to help them with comprehension.”

“I can see my students develop more confidence in reading, they’ve developed more confidence in themselves, and they’ve become more interested in learning,” Mac said.

Dunlap volunteers his time two to three days a week at the school and the children look forward to each visit and each reading session.

“This is my life,” Dunlap said. “I really enjoy doing this. It’s something that I think every senior that’s able to should volunteer doing.”

“There are four volunteers in PALS program and they are really important to the school,” Mac said. “ Because they help provide resources in creative ways.”

Dunlap said there’s “no doubt” his grandmother helped shape him into the man he is today.

“Because down the road I became a very good athlete, but that reading, that education thought stayed in my mind.”

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