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Athletes United

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Students create free sports league for Upper Valley children

Soccer player Myra Sack '10 has fond memories of college sports clinics she attended on the campuses of Villanova and St. Joseph's universities growing up in Wynnewood, Pa., outside of Philadelphia. It's one of the reasons why she enjoyed working at the Soccer Academies Inc. spring clinics for children, which are held at Dartmouth.
dscTrack and field athlete Jonathan Essington ’09 (left) coaches at an Athletes United free Field Day for local children. (Photo by Kawakahi Kaeo Amina ’09)

But Sack and teammate Rebecca Poskin '09 of Leawood, Kan., began to think about how the clinics were accessible only to children whose families could afford the registration fees.

Discussing that on a Thanksgiving visit to Sack's home last year, the two came up with the idea for Athletes United (AU), a free sports league aimed at children who, Sack says, "weren't reaping the benefit of Dartmouth being in their backyard."

While some Dartmouth athletes serve as Big Brothers and Big Sisters, and others tutor or read to children in programs at local schools, Athletes United broke new ground, according to Sack. "There isn't another initiative that I patterned AU after. I just felt there had to be something more Dartmouth athletes could do for the region."

Early direction came from Meg Hancock, now an assistant dean in the First-Year Office, but then director of the CHAMPS/Life Skills program for student-athletes. Jill Redmond, assistant athletic director for compliance, has provided ongoing assistance.

After a hectic winter and spring of planning, Athletes United kicked off a basketball league last summer for children from six area towns.

One evening each week from early in the summer term through the fall, Dartmouth student-athletes traveled to each team's hometown to run practices. On Sunday afternoons the teams gathered at Leede Arena for "Gameday," with upwards of 25 student-athletes serving as coaches and officials. Sack and Poskin hope that in the future Athletes United will even provide transportation to bring the youngsters to campus.

Athletes United went on to offer a free Field Day on Aug. 16, as well as a clinic for coaches of youth sports leagues on Sept. 8. That effort featured Head Football Coach Buddy Teevens '79, Head Basketball Coaches Chris Wielgus (women's) and Terry Dunn (men's), and Head Soccer Coaches Angie Hind (women's) and Jeff Cook (men's).

Sack and Poskin put in countless hours getting Athletes United started, and things only got crazier with the start of the academic year and their own soccer season this fall.

To keep the Athletes United basketball league going, they handed the reins over to an eager group of fellow student-athletes.

Now that soccer season is over, the co-founders are busy planning several clinics for the winter months and are looking forward to turning the focus from basketball to a soccer league. Sack adds that they are eager for help to publicize the program. "We really need to get the word out to communities that are harder to reach," she says.

augroup
Athletes United co-founders and fall term leadership team: (back row, from left): Natalie Todd-Zebel '09 (pole vault), Becky Poskin '09 (co-founder, soccer), Myra Sack '10 (co-founder, soccer), and Hope McIntyre '11 (lacrosse). Front row, from left: Kat Collins '11 (lacrosse), Ashley Gleason '09 (softball), and Shannon MacKenzie '11 (lacrosse). Not pictured: Blake Williams '11 (basketball) and Malcolm Freberg '09 (football). (Photo by Joseph Mehling '69)

Their vision of the program continues to evolve. "We're trying to add another level," says Sack. "At the end of Gameday on Sundays we have a quote of the week and goal of the week, such as 'friendship,' 'caring,' or 'practice.' The theme one week was to sit with someone at lunch that you've never sat with and have a conversation. The ultimate purpose of the league is to use sports for so many other things."

Student-athlete volunteers = 80

Local children registered (Fall 2008) = 50

A recent email received from Keith Estes of Lebanon, N.H., the father of  Athletes United regular Braeden Estes, told the co-founders their message has hit home. He wrote, "The goals and quotes that you give them each week are great. Last night I overheard [Braeden] ask his mother if there was anything he could do to help her out. Keep up the great work!"

Sack and Poskin believe the seed they planted with Athletes United will continue to blossom long after they graduate.

"It's our responsibility to relay the importance of it," says Sack. "Becky and I have found we aren't the only two people this passionate about spreading sport and reaching kids who don't have the resources, coaches, and mentors."

By BRUCE WOOD

Questions or comments about this article? We welcome your feedback.

Last Updated: 11/26/08