By MARGUERITE WARD
A couple of motivated individuals have the ball rolling on an inspiring pay-it-forward plan to improve young people’s lives through sports.
What started as an idea by longtime athlete and Rye resident Michael Eck quickly grew into a growing nonprofit as a few friends, community members and athletic leaders in the area, became equally inspired.
Now in less than one year as a fully-functioning nonprofit, Steer for Student Athletes has transformed the lives of a group of students through sports.
Don’t let the bold mission statement of the nonprofit fool you, its vision—“to use sports to save the world one kid at a time”—means exactly what it sounds like. For thousands of at-risk students, access to sports can mean the difference between pursuing a diploma or dropping out, getting motivated at school or falling behind.
Steer for Student Athletes aims to make change on the micro-level. The nonprofit identifies students who have athletic talent and goals, but lack the resources to develop them. From providing new cleats, to SAT tutoring, to life coaching, the organization’s leadership is all-in when it comes to student success.
Eck and Kevin O’Callaghan are the nonprofit’s co-leaders. Dr. Tom Crawford, Joe Durney and Elizabeth D’Ottavio serve as Steer’s Board of Directors. Together, they are focusing on big dreams for small communities.
Stressing educational and life-skills, Steer uses sports as a conduit for accomplishment.
“It’s not about athletic prowess, it’s about using athletics to help form a successful student,” Durney said.
Research overwhelmingly shows students who participate in sports are less likely to drop-out, less prone to use drugs at a young age and more likely to have higher test scores.
Steer is currently operating in the Port Chester school district, but there are talks of expansion to other school districts in the future. So far, it is helping seven student athletes between grades 7 and 12. The team is hoping to add three more students to its roster by this summer.
The team behind Steer knows the impact of sports and wants to share it. Like the rest of the team, Durney sees the work he does with the students as a personal responsibility.
“I feel a moral imperative about Steer, that its mission to help students is part of my work,” he said.
One story, in particular has impacted Durney.
He described one middle school student who lacked self-confidence and motivation, despite showing strong scholastic and athletic potential. After Steer set the boy up with a former MLB player for coaching, the student turned his life around. Instead of sulking in class and shying away from attention on the field, the boy won an MVP award in a baseball tournament.
Durney describes the boy’s story as “a profound thing to witness.”
Jordan Eck, former quarterback at Hamilton College and son of Michael Eck, was heavily involved in building Steer from the ground up. Equipped with years of experience in athletic leadership, a communications degree and a love for helping kids, Eck took on the challenge of helping the team start its work.
“I wanted to do something that I cared about,” Jordan Eck said. “Helping kids and being hands-on, working from the ground on a whole new experience, it’s been really rewarding so far.”
When asked what specifically Steer will provide its students, Eck answered, “whatever it takes, really. We’re always here for them.”
Considering Steer’s short history, it has made a big impact.
Eck recalls the nonprofit’s first end-of-the-year dinner, at which all the board members, staff, donors, students and their families sat down together for the first time.
“The testimonials from that night on how we were helping [the students]; it’s one thing to hear it, it’s another thing to see it,” he said.
With a team of less than 15 people, this small nonprofit is gaining traction.
A handful of local community members with professional experiencing in student or sports coaching have signed on to Steer, providing students with life, school, and sports lessons.
“At its crux, Steer is about helping kids,” Durney said. “I hope that, in 10 to 20 years, when a student comes back and talks about their experience with Steer that they indicate that it had a meaningful, positive impact on their life.”
Stories of Steer students show how, when given resources, at-risk youth from difficult financial, familial, and educational backgrounds can excel in school and in sports.