Sports Mentorship Academy

Combining Sports, Study, and Service to Create Successful Futures

Studies show that when young people participate in physical
education and sports, they not only gain health benefits, they also
learn about honesty, fairness, respect, teamwork, and following
rules. Sports-based programs for youth even have educational
benefits—increasing academic performance, attendance, and the
desire to succeed (

While working for Olmsted County, Andre Crockett became
aware of the pressing need for a local sports-based program for
youth. He asked his supervisor what could be done and was told
it would take time to develop a program through the normal
channels—up to five years. “These kids just couldn’t wait five
years,” he says. Sensing the urgency, Crockett started the
program on his own. In 2009, the Sports Mentorship Academy
was born—and Crockett became its executive director, while
maintaining his regular job.

Basketball, football, and baseball are the three sports students
from grades K-8 are exposed to during their time with the Sports
Mentorship Academy. Twice a week, depending on the time of
year, staff teaches one of the sports. Rules, fundamentals, strategy,
and teamwork are discussed, and each sport has a competitive
league and tournaments. The program’s high school students
participate in a separate group called Next Level, which allows
for athletes of certain ages or abilities to compete on a more
competitive playing field. Some engage in athletics for Mayo,
Century, and John Marshall high schools. Many have older
siblings who were once part of the Sports Mentorship Academy
but now participate in college athletics.

Familiarization with college is an important part of the program.
In partnership with St. Mary’s University, Winona State, the
University of Minnesota–Twin Cities, and the Rochester
Community and Technical College (RCTC), the Sports Mentorship
Academy offers sports tours for students, allowing them to visit
colleges and get used to the college environment. “We want them
to envision going to college, and the best way to do that is to
show them what it’s really like,” says Crockett. Students also tour
local businesses. Exposing the youth to many avenues for success
is critical in planting the seeds of success in their minds.

Success wasn’t built on athletics alone, however. The academy
has a study-hall component staffed by area teachers and college
students who volunteer their time after school throughout the year.
Will Ruffin, a teacher in the Rochester Public Schools, for
example, works with students during the study hall portion of their
afternoon with the academy. Ruffin helps them develop study, time
management, homework completion, and test preparation skills.
He checks each student’s Skyward profile for attendance and to
ensure his or her grades are on track for the established 2.5 GPA
goal. The students also engage in small work-study groups and
have the opportunity to read quietly.

To ensure youth success and connection within the community, the
Sports Mentorship Academy goes a step beyond sports and
academics. All academy youth participate in a service-learning
project, an opportunity to give back to the community and learn
leadership skills outside of a sports environment. Cleaning
schools, picking up trash at parks, and working at food banks,
like Channel One, are just a few examples of these projects.
Integrating students into the community and instilling a sense of
accomplishment helps strengthen the academy’s goals and
message by teaching them another path to character traits that
can be gained through commitment and perseverance.

Crockett knows, firsthand, the impact sports have on youth.
Originally from Baltimore, he was a successful athlete at
Northwestern High School—scoring more than 2,000 points in his
basketball career. As a result, he was heavily recruited by major
Division I universities. Unfortunately, his SAT scores were not high
enough to get into those schools. Instead, he attended Rochester
Community College (now RCTC) where he played basketball. He
later graduated from Winona State University and began training
others who were interested in mentoring youth. “Basketball saved
my life,” says Crockett. Not being academically eligible to accept
a college scholarship drove him to build an organization where
athletics become the basis for teaching academic success. “I
wanted to give these kids an opportunity to succeed when they
don’t feel like they have a chance,” says Crockett.

Over the past five years, Crockett has worked hard to develop
the Sports Mentorship Academy and build relationships that foster
its growth. RCTC, Rochester Public Schools, the United Way, and
Mayo Clinic believe in the Sports Mentorship Academy’s mission
and have dedicated resources to aid Crockett in making his
vision a reality. “We don’t turn kids away if they are experiencing
trouble in their lives,” says James Robertson, program director
and logistics coordinator. “We want these kids to not only stay
active and occupied outside of school hours but to learn that all
things are possible through dedication and hard work. The vast majority of these kids do not have a father at home; we try to
give them the direction and guidance that kids need.”

The Sports Mentorship Academy continues to grow and
expand. With a small staff, it is difficult to meet the needs of all
students. Currently, having enough transportation to and from
the after school locations is an issue. In addition, because
students spend multiple hours with the volunteers after school,
there is a need to keep them nourished and energized to
succeed. “Healthy snack foods are always a need for our kids,”
says Robertson. “Andre has been very generous when needed
and dipped into his own finances to make sure the kids have
something to eat after school. It would be great if we had the
funding so he didn’t need to do that.”

The Sports Mentorship Academy recently expanded to Winona,
and they have been asked to bring a chapter to St. Paul as well.
Crockett and his staff are pleased with the response, and are
excited to serve more youth. “We have a great melting pot of
kids here—African-American, Latino, bi-racial,” he says. “We
have kids from different backgrounds, and it’s great to get them
all in the same environment, having fun together, and learning.
That’s what this is all about.”