Indiana Sports Corp. expands youth initiative: John Byers hired from Tabernacle Presbyterian to lead effort to address health issues of city’s children

After more than 20 years heading up one of the biggest youth sports programs in Indianapolis, John Byers is leaving Tabernacle Presbyterian Church to help Indiana Sports Corp. play a bigger role in improving the health of Hoosier children.

Byers will become ISC’s vice president for youth programming, a new executivelevel position at the not-for-profit, on April 10.

“The Indiana Sports Corp. made a decision to look at youth wellness in our city and in our state,” said Susan Williams, ISC president. “We think we are in a unique position to give the issue some focus.”

Byers plans to connect with ISC sponsors and other partners to host clinics, educational seminars and sporting events for youth that will be integrated with ISC events, such as Corporate Challenge and various world championships.

“We have an opportunity to leverage the existing partnerships the Sports Corp. already has and create some new ones to link youth initiatives to literally every sporting event the organization is involved in,” Byers said.

Byers, 62, took over the fledgling Tabernacle Presbyterian youth sports program in 1985 and built it into a north-side institution. Under Byers’ leadership, Tabernacle Presbyterian’s youth sports program works with 1,700 children a year and has three paid staffers, more than 100 volunteers and an annual budget of more than $120,000.

Byers, who previously spent 20 years in industrial sales, originally took the Tabernacle Presbyterian job on an interim basis. He expanded the program to include two seasons of basketball and soccer, along with one season of football and softball.

Byers also emphasized less traditional activities, helping launch the church’s youth chess club, which competes yearround, as well as starting programs for dance, tennis, golf, and track and field.

Byers ran not only the leagues, but also oversaw numerous camps and clinics Tabernacle Presbyterian operated. He also was instrumental in launching Indiana’s first Kids Games in 2000. The event, held biennially using an Olympic format, attracted more than 1,000 kids from churches citywide in 2004.

“Kids Games has become a real good collaborative effort by a number of churches and organizations that I think will grow and continue to have a broad impact on area youth,” said Byers, who’s confident the church sports program can prosper without him. Ben Hughes, who has been involved in the program eight years as a volunteer and most recently as a paid, part-time program assistant, will replace Byers on an interim basis.

Williams doesn’t expect ISC to run youth sports leagues, but it will add to its list of events and begin programs to address such issues as youth obesity and smoking prevention and cessation.

Three major initiatives for Byers, Williams said, will be to increase the impact of ISC’s youth Champs Grant programs, leverage in a “much larger way” the events ISC helps host locally, and form collaborations that touch all fronts of the youth wellness issue.

Since 1988, ISC has made Champs Grants totaling more than $1.5 million to youth service agencies in central Indiana and outlying communities. ISC also makes a $20,000 grant to Black Expo every year to support its youth initiatives and a $5,000 grant to the Glenn Howard Youth Golf program. The annual Youthlinks golf outing has been a primary ISC fund-raiser for youth grants.

“With [Byers] taking this new position, we hope to dramatically increase the impact we have on youth on a number of levels,” Williams said.

Byers said he’ll miss Tab but is eager to help larger numbers of kids through ISC.

“If I could have picked the organization I would most like to work for, it would be the Sports Corp., and if I could pick the cause I’d most like to work for, it would be youth health, fitness and well-being,” Byers said. “I think we have potential to do great things that haven’t been done in this city before.”

Jon Byers turned Tabernacle Presbyterian into a youth sports institution.

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