Teaming up to connect students to sports

The pandemic didn’t just shut down schools, it also shut down team sports.

Now, Joy Richmond-Smith and Brad Maloon, two City Connects Coordinators in Salem, Mass., are working together to bring sports back to students. 

“Last year, I connected several kids to the Jr. Celtics program,” Richmond-Smith, the coordinator at the Saltonstall School says. “They were limited English speakers, and they had never had the chance to play on an organized team, and they really wanted to.” 

The Jr. Celtics Academy is a basketball program for middle school students run by the YMCA in Marblehead and the Boston Celtics. 

“Some of the kids have never been to Marblehead,” a wealthy town next door to Salem, “and they had never been to that Y.”

The Saltonstall students started working out at the Y, and eventually the Y’s coach asked Richmond-Smith about bringing more Salem students to the Y. Richmond-Smith seized the opportunity to form a partnership with the Y. 

She also brought in Brad Maloon, the coordinator at the Collins School, Salem’s other middle school. Maloon is also the president of the Salem Children’s Charity, and he brought philanthropic funding. So in addition to playing basketball, students also get memberships to the Y.

“This year, we said let’s make this partnership bigger,” Richmond-Smith says, “and now we have over 40 kids.” 

“And because of the Salem Children’s Charity,” Maloon adds, “ we were able to make it affordable for families.”

Maloon also reached out to the New England Flag Football program

“Because of Covid, they were having challenges filling rosters, and I said, I know kids who love playing football.” So Maloon reached out to Richmond-Smith and together they found 80 students who joined the league, both boys and girls. And once again the Salem Children’s Charity provided a philanthropic gift that made participation affordable.

Donating to sports was also a chance for the Children’s Charity to shift from reactive, emergency funding to funding programs focused on fun. 

At first, though, students hesitated.

“A lot of the kids wouldn’t sign up because they said, I don’t play sports,” Maloon explains. “So I said, well, because of the pandemic, no one has been playing sports. No one has been playing for three years. But once they get over that fear, and they feel confident, they love it.”

Both Richmond-Smith and Maloon have seen a surge in excitement. 

“They are so excited to be playing against their friends in an organized way, not just in pick-up games on the playground,” Richmond-Smith says. A basketball player in college, she has served as coach for the Jr. Celtics team. “Playing gives students connections outside of school. They get to work with referees to learn the rules of basketball. And they all get Jr. Celtics jerseys.” 

Maloon adds, “First thing this morning, when I walked in, this little boy, who normally wouldn’t be able to play for any of these teams, said, Mr. Maloon, we won the championship! So not only is it cool to get sports back into the community, it helps us foster relationships with kids.” 

Sports also help with family engagement. 

“Parents text me about games, and then if there’s something unrelated that comes up later in the year, this connection makes it easier for me to reach out to them,” Maloon says.

Richmond-Smith and Maloon plan to keep growing these sports programs. They both agree that connecting kids to programs that they are excited about makes it more likely that kids will come to school and be engaged – and that’s a win for everyone. 

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