By Barry Janoff
July 29, 2015: Opening with the ominous warning that by 2020, an estimated 27% of public high schools in the United States will not have any sports, but immediately following it with the optimistic "Saving youth sports is a core mission of our company," Dick's Sporting Goods has unveiled an expanded platform for the second year of its Sports Matter program.
Under the auspices of Dick's Sporting Goods Foundation, Sports Matter is building on a $25 million multi-year commitment to youth sports programs, which now includes Harlem Lacrosse and Leadership, and by working with DonorsChoose.org, a leader in crowd-funding for U.S. public schools.
In its first year, Sports Matter raised some $4 million and helped more than 180 teams nationwide, according to Dick's.
This year, DonorsChoose.org has built a dedicated "Team Sports" section to support public school athletic programs. Dick's Sporting Goods Foundation said that it would, through its Sports Matter program, "match dollar-for-dollar, up to $1.5 million, once each team is funded 50%."
The growing platform was made public during a Sports Matter Summit panel discussion hosted by Dick's Sporting Goods yesterday (July 29), which was moderated by former NFL head coach and current ESPN and Monday Night Football commentator and analyst Jon Gruden (pictured above, left).
The panel included heavy-hitters from across sports and entertainment, including Carli Lloyd (pictured above, middle), U.S. Women’s National Team captain and MVP of the recent FIFA Women's World Cup; Karl-Anthony Towns (pictured above, right), who in June was the NBA's overall No. 1 draft pick by the Minnesota Timberwolves; veteran NFL wide receiver Brandon Marshall; actor Michael B. Jordan (Fantastic Four, Friday Night Lights, Fruitvale Station, Creed); Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Buzz Bissinger; and Paul Caccamo, founder and CEO for Up2Us Sports.
"Youth sports programs are in trouble," said Gruden. "We take it for granted that kids benefit from sports, but that (scenario) is in trouble."
According to Dick's Sporting Goods Foundation, billions of dollars have been cut from school sports budgets in recent years, and these cuts disproportionately impact students in lower income schools. Between 2009-2011 alone, some $3.5 billion was cut from school sports budgets.
Among the reasons to prevent these cuts and to support sports in schools: Physically active kids have up to 40% higher test scores and are less likely to engage in high-risk behaviors, students who participate in sports are four times more likely to attend college and student-athletes are 50% less absent from classes than non-athletes, according to Dick's.
"Football and sports saved m life," said Marshall, (pictured with Michael B. Jordan) a native of Pittsburgh, who has played for the Denver Broncos, Miami Dolphins and the past season with the Chicago Bears before being traded to the New York Jets this year. "If I didn't have sports, I wouldn't have had an opportunity to succeed. Now I have the opportunity to do many things, and to do things for other people."
According to Lauren Hobart, svp and CMO for Pittsburgh-based Dick's Sporting Goods and president of The Dick's Sporting Goods Foundation, "During the inaugural year of our Sports Matter program, it became apparent that youth sports are in crisis. Saving youth sports is a core mission of our company, and we are excited to partner with DonorsChoose.org to keep more kids playing sports."
For Dick's, supporting Harlem Lacrosse and Leadership, a school-based non-profit organization that "provide academic intervention, leadership training and lacrosse to at-risk youth," epitomizes the strides being made via Sports Matter.
The group is the focus of a new TV campaign from Dick's (via lead agency Anomaly, NY), which follows a kid in Harlem whose mother recently passed away (and whose dad is also dead) but is dealing with life and improving in school thanks in large part to being part of the Harlem Lacrosse program. (See the full spot, "Sports Matter - Tyler," here.)
Following the panel discussion in the NASDAQ MarketSite in New York's Time Square, players from and teachers with Harlem Lacrosse received a $25,000 check from Sports Matter.
"I attended (Newark Arts High School) and the eight-block walk home from school to my home presented so many hurdles and challenges, so many ways to get into trouble," said Jordan, who plays Johnny Storm/Human Torch in this summer's reboot of Fantastic Four. "Playing basketball there gave me direction, kept me from doing the wrong things."
"Sports is a universal language," said Marshall. "Like math. It breaks down barriers, it builds communities. We need to continue to use sports to transform kids."
Summed up Gruden, "Being part of a movement like this is something that really resonated with me last year, and I'm proud to be back to support Dick's and its Foundation as we address the growing issue of underfunded youth athletics nationwide."
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