The Youth Sports Alliance looks back as it approaches its 15 anniversary
March 21, 2018
On March 28, it will be 15 years since a group of residents put their heads together and created one of the most prominent nonprofits in Park City — the Youth Sports Alliance. Since its creation, it has grown rapidly and served a broad section of the populous, including more than 40 Olympians and Paralympians that participated in the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games. On Monday, a handful of founders, past presidents and current staff members gathered to discuss how the organization began, where it is now, and where they hope to see it go.
According to Jim Gaddis — a founder and former president — it all started with a series of conversations following the 2002 Winter Games, in which several people saw an opportunity to use the JANS Winter Welcome gala as a way to fund community sports at large. At the time, all the proceeds were going to the Park City Ski Team, and the YSA's founders, including Bob Marsh, Russ Coburn, and Gaddis, thought they could use the funds to support a broader range of opportunities, like freestyle and Nordic skiing, with the primary goal of getting Park City kids "off the couch."
The official letters of incorporation granting the YSA nonprofit status arrived on March 28, 2003, and the proceeds from the following JANS Winter Welcome were distributed among a handful clubs, instead of one — including Wasatch Freestyle, Axis Freeskiing and Park City Freestyle, among others.
"The main thing I remember about it was the ski racing program didn't like it very much because they were going to lose some of their funding," Gaddis said. "So there was some conversation about that, but I think the conversation was pretty positive with everyone, because all these programs were just starting and they needed help."
Originally dubbed the Youth Winter Sports Alliance, the fledgling organization took off. It raised and distributed around $25,000 to $30,000 during its first Winter Welcome, and was backed by a group of donors within the group called the Founders Club, which covered the overhead costs of the nonprofit so money from the Winter Welcome could go to its intended destination — supporting sports clubs.
From the start, those involved said, no aspect of the original vision had to be left out for the sake of pragmatism.
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"The biggest goal and the biggest vision was for individuals and organizations to come together for the betterment of the community, and I think that has come together a thousand fold over the initial expectation," said Bob Wheaton, president and chief operating officer of Deer Valley Resort, during a separate phone interview. From the outset, the ski resorts played an important role in supporting the YSA, and Deer Valley hosted YSA board meetings.
In the YSA's conference room on Monday, the group of staff, former presidents and founders said, if anything, the original vision was fairly narrow, and has only expanded.
"I think everything was additive," said Tom Eastwood, former YSA president and vice president. "Nothing was left behind."
Gaddis said the YSA initially overlooked the idea of providing scholarships, not just funding clubs — that aspect was added five years later.
"Early on we decided we had to help kids that didn't have an opportunity to participate in any kind of program," Gaddis said.
After conversations with a handful of schools, that initiative took root, eventually becoming the Get Out & Play program, which became a large part of the YSA's mission. In recent years, the program has expanded from the area's elementary schools to after-school offerings at Ecker Hill Middle School and Treasure Mountain Junior High under the moniker ACTiV8.
Today the organization serves around 2,700 young people in the Park City area — much more than the founders and early presidents imagined.
"We were thinking 50 kids per program, maybe no Get Out and Play," Gaddis said. "That was before it was conceived."
Get Out & Play will celebrate its 10th anniversary this fall.
The Stein Eriksen Endowment was another major milestone. Two years ago, the YSA reached its goal of raising $2 million to use as a principal fund, drawing off its interest as a way to provide stable funding for its grants.
"We would have this giant ask and we could give each athlete $200 or $300, but you know I'm not sure how impactful that was," said Emily Fisher, current executive director. "But this spring we were basically able to give 60 percent of (the total scholarships requested), and for the whole entire year we gave away $114,000 in direct funding to athletes because of the endowment. And this is really the first year we have been able to draw from that."
Current president Trace Worthington said the endowment was proof of the YSA's stability in the community, and evidence of the trust it has garnered over the years.
"When Jim (Gaddis) walks up and asks for a large gift from somebody, they have to believe in the organization and the mission," he said. "Obviously, we've done a good job making sure this organization is polished — it's doing good things."
Though no one at the conference table recalled publicly any major crises while with the YSA, Eastwood and Gaddis said there were trying moments.
"There was a couple of times when we were trying to (recruit) the (Founders' Club)," Gaddis said. "Sometimes it was a task to do that, to make sure the overhead was covered so we could give away money, so we could do what we said we were going to do."
Eastwood said the club also got into a little bit of trouble making "commitments that were kind of bold; brash maybe."
"But then Jim would sell a building and everything would be OK," he said jokingly.
Gaddis said the organization has turned out much larger than he ever envisioned it – with the endowment and the Get Out and Play program. Those gathered around the conference room table said it wouldn't have been possible without the community's commitment to helping the YSA, including dedicated sponsors that provide equipment, donations and lift tickets.
In the future, the YSA is considering expanding into the surrounding communities of Kamas and Heber, said Heather Sims, youth programs director, because of the demand for the Get Out & Play program.
Fisher said, looking forward, she sees the legacy of the YSA's original mission playing out in the form of the more than 2,500 kids in the Get Out and Play and ACTiV8 programs, and especially in the athletes that represent their countries in international competition and can point directly to the YSA as a source of income in a time of need.
"Those kids will say, 'If it wasn't for that money at that time in my life, I don't know if I could have continued on my athletic journey,'" Fisher said. "And just to see that is really impactful."
The YSA will not hold a public celebration of its anniversary, but will hold a parade for the homecoming Park City Nation — featuring Olympians and Paralympians with ties to the program — on April 6.