Education & Workforce Development and Environment and Media & Marketing and Sports Business

SPORTS: Child of city fears demise of program that saved her

May 29, 2006

You can sense the ache in Rochelle Taylor's heart, the knot in her stomach.

She goes to bed at night wondering, "What are we going to do?" She wakes up thinking, "What are we going to do?"

Kids are her passion. Not just any kids, but the ones who live in the city neighborhoods ... often underserved, undeserving victims of circumstances into which they were born.

And circumstances in which they might remain, unless someone extends a hand.

Taylor is one of those reaching out. She is president of the Indianapolis-based, not-forprofit National Youth Sports Corp., which has its offices in Pan Am Plaza.

The NYSC does not have a high profile. Some make the connection when they learn the NYSC administers the popular YES (Youth Education Through Sports) Clinics the NCAA stages in every community in which it hosts a championship.

Perhaps lesser known, but having far more impact, is another longtime initiative of the NYSC. It's the National Youth Sports Program (NYSP). It dates back to 1967, when the NCAA, in cooperation with the President's Council on Physical Fitness, believed it could do some good by opening its campuses to kids in the summertime.

The goal was and is not to offer just sports participation and instruction, but to also provide meals, medical screenings, tutoring, mentoring and character development.

The program, for kids 10 to 16, goes five days a week for five weeks. And it's the best . kind of affordable: free.

"We introduce kids early to the role and importance of higher education, and bring them into an environment that is safe, nurturing and has the necessary resources," Taylor says. "These kids are not just on the athletic fields ... they're also in the cafeterias, the classrooms, the libraries and the computer labs.

"Our medical screenings turn up undiagnosed problems-asthma, allergies, heart murmurs, and on ... -in about one out of three kids. We're not just doing sports. We're providing community services."

Taylor knows. Growing up in Detroit, she participated in NYSP at the University of Detroit. It gave her a vision beyond her neighborhood. It helped her realize college was desirable and attainable. It motivated her to hone both her physical and mental skills. She earned a track scholarship to The University of Texas at El Paso, was an All-American, and got her degree. She went into collegiate sports administration, which led her to the NCAA, which in turn brought her to the NYSC two years ago.

Full circle. Now the rub.

Funded by Congress since its inception, the NYSP has reached more than 2 million youth, including 72,000 last year on more than 200 campuses nationwide last year.

But this summer, the number will be 15,000. And next summer, it could be zero. That would include 600 to 700 youngsters who have been involved in NYSP at Marian College and the University of Indianapolis.

The reason? Congress, forced to cut social programs, eliminated NYSP funding. And if it's not reinstated in the next budget-appropriations hearings begin early next month-the NYSP will be history.

Taylor says lawmakers see the name and figure it's "just a sports program," and therefore expendable. There's also a misconception that the NCAA can pick up the tab even though the NCAA has never been a funder-only an administrative partner-of NYSP.

The NYSC has, for the first time, hired a lobbyist, but Taylor says it needs a "champion" on Capitol Hill, a lawmaker to carry the torch. Indiana senators Richard Lugar and Evan Bayh have sent a letter to their colleagues urging reinstatement of the funding, but whether the program can survive a budget hit by hurricanes and war, time will tell.

"I know programs that are on paper, but this is a program that is really doing it," she says. "This can be life-changing. As a participant. I know what it does, what it means. It's a real program helping real kids, having a real impact. We get letters from participants who are thankful for what it did for them, for helping them learn how to make decisions, to understand consequences, how to break cycles. It does work."

Taylor hopes someone in the national media will take notice of the NYSP. She hopes NYSP alumni will bend the ears of their lawmakers. She hopes that congressional champion will come forward.

If not, Taylor worries, who fills the void? Where do those thousands of kids spend those five weeks? On the streets?

Knowing the answer, her heart aches. And makes her hope someone is listening faraway, on The Hill.



Benner is associate director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly.To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to bbenner@ibj.com.
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