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Byron Yake

Write on Sports, Inc. (WoS)
Purpose Prize Fellow 2015

Retired journalist brings athletes and journalists to summer camps to inspire writing, critical thinking and self-confidence in at-risk middle-schoolers.

In 2005, I was newly retired from a 35-year career with the Associated Press and looking to have a second career where I could make a difference and use the broad background I have in journalism, business and sports. A colleague suggested teaching disadvantaged kids to write about sports, and the idea stuck: I love sports, I liked writing about sports, I wanted to do something relevant in my next career. I pitched the idea to the president of Montclair State University, who I met at a party, and we opened our first summer camp for 24 students the next year.

Write on Sports uses kids’ interest in sports to teach low-income, at-risk middle-schoolers to write, in summer day camps, afterschool programs and one-day events. I bring in volunteer guest athletes, broadcasters and sports writers to hold “press conferences.” The kids prepare; they learn to ask good, tough questions. They blog, write features and produce videos on computers over the two weeks. The process builds skills they will need in college and the workplace. And meeting the sports figures shows the kids the link between success in school and an exciting and rewarding career.

  • Engaged over 900 high-need children in 50+ sports-journalism camps and afterschool programs that build critical thinking, literacy skills and self-confidence.
  • Program has been replicated at colleges and universities in Indiana and Rhode Island, with plans to expand one location at a time to enhance educational excellence.
  • A pro sports team, the New Jersey Devils, partnered with the Newark Boys and Girls Club to offer Write on Sports afterschool programs, in an implementation model that could be replicated in major US cities with pro sports teams and large populations of vulnerable youth.

Since our first camp in 2006, we’ve served more than 900 students – all on full scholarship – in 42 summer camps and 15 after-school programs. In 2015, we held eight summer sessions, in New Jersey, Indiana and Rhode Island, on a $250,000 budget. Our summer camps are held mainly on college campuses, showing young people the world of higher-education.

Professional role models are especially important in towns like Newark, where one in three teenagers doesn’t graduate from high school. But when it comes to sports, it’s a different story – they remember names, stats, plays and strategy. Write on Sports uses that intense interest as a hook to get kids to write. Our low teacher-student ratio (1:4) and theme-based approach helps us meet kids where they are. Seeing them use that passion to learn and grow fuels my efforts every day.

WoS is a perfect encore career for me. I have built new networks. I collaborate and partner with community organizations and individuals. I created a nonprofit, I developed education partners, hired a staff of part-time employees and recruited an eight-member board with great resources and contacts. I built the program, piece by piece.

The future is bright for growth. We have created free-standing programs and regional program centers in Indiana and Rhode Island and are exploring expansion in NJ, NY and CT. The NJ Devils hockey team partnered with the Newark Boys & Girls club in a WoS afterschool program that could be replicated with other pro teams. Our plan is to more than double the number of WoS camps – to 20 by 2020, serving 500 students a year.

My father was an editor in a small, Western Pennsylvania town. He was also an activist in the community and in our church – and he ran a summer camp. Decades later, when I was the editor of a weekly newspaper, I saw the value of participating in volunteer work in the community. Now I see that the circle has closed in a way, and I’m proud to be doing work that echoes my father’s ideals.