When most people think back to their childhood, they think of times spent playing outside in the sun and imagining they’re playing with their favorite athletes. Many children look up to these athletes as their heroes (and heroines). Mine were John Elway and Michelle Kwan.
While New York City hosts some of the most awarded and successful teams in the nation, with greats like Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Joe Namath, Mark Messier, and Derek Jeter among them, many kids grow up without ever engaging in an organized sports activity. The Great Muhammad Ali (who lost to Smokin’ Joe Frazier in the fight of the century at Madison Square Garden) once said, “Champions aren’t made in the gym. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them – a desire, a dream, a vision.” This is what the New York Cares sport explorers program is all about.
At Hyde Leadership Academy, I work as a Team Leader with dedicated volunteers who teach more than just how to dribble or kick a ball. We engage 8-12 year olds so they learn to believe in themselves, to feel strong and mighty, to play as a team, and to be healthy. One student, a shy and slightly overweight kid excited to get outside and play, took me by the hand, looked at me, and said, “I never knew I could kick a homerun before I met you.” His words inspired me to write about Hyde, because without new volunteers and Team Leaders, this program will not continue for him and the 50 others on the waitlist to join in the fun.
This hasn’t been an easy program. The after school program staff needs to make sure the students do their homework, putting the project at a difficult time for most volunteers with long commutes or a strict work schedule. I have met many volunteers who come and go because of circumstances. One volunteer has registered five of her friends and her grandmother as New York Cares volunteers to strengthen the program, but can’t become the Team Leader since she’s in med school. Another volunteer is from France and would love to step into the leadership role if she knew she could stay in the city.
But the volunteers who can make it out to the project know it’s worth it. One volunteer recently said to me, “Volunteering with you has been good for me. Working with the kids has been rewarding.”
Each of the kids in the sports program has a desire to play and a dream to become a champion. There is a great need at Hyde, and elsewhere, for kids to learn organized sports and get outside. In the fall, I hope that they can continue to be active with the New York Cares sports explorer program. Most of all, I want them all to know that they can succeed if they work hard, listen and play fair. Who knows, maybe the next great NYC athlete will be the boy who didn’t know he could kick a homerun.
By Emily Burkhart