How It All Began
On August 29, 2005, the largest and most costly disaster in American history hit the Gulf Coast, ravaging New Orleans. More than 1,400 Louisiana residents were killed and hundreds were unaccounted for in the months following the storm. The city of New Orleans immediately lost $168 million in annual revenue and 50 percent of its operating budget. As the city faced the mammoth task of recovery, basic essentials became priority, and other services, including youth sports, were left to the private sector.
The New Orleans Recreation Department (NORD), a division of the New Orleans City government focused on establishing and maintaining the recreational programs and facilities within the city, sustained more than $60 million in damages as a result of Hurricane Katrina. The storm left the Orleans Parish with only 57 percent of its pre-Katrina population and a lack of equipment, mentors and fields. NORD also lost resources and manpower as staffing decreased from 100 to 30 people.
Many families moved back to New Orleans in 2007, making it an exceptionally difficult year for NORD as there were increased demands on its already strained budget and resources. Fourteen playgrounds participated in NORD’s youth football program, an average of nearly 2,000 young athletes, and demand for youth recreation opportunities continued to increase.
At that same time, then NCAA Football president Tom Hansen implored the board of directors to find ways to more positively impact youth football. At the suggestion of Wright Waters, commissioner of the Sun Belt Conference, which is headquartered in New Orleans, NCAA Football’s board of directors unanimously agreed to direct funds and resources toward the New Orleans youth football efforts.
NCAA Football created an alliance with organizations playing major roles in the developing and implementing a youth initiative in the city of New Orleans. NCAA Football, NORD, the Allstate Sugar Bowl, the R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, Louisiana State University, Tulane University, the Sun Belt Conference, Conference USA, Wilson Sporting Goods and Russell Athletics came together to form NCAA Football’s New Orleans Youth Football Alliance (NCAA Football’s NOYFA). Moreover, NCAA Football made a commitment of $750,000 in the form of clinics for coaches, players and officials; uniforms, football and equipment donations; and a postseason banquet at the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl to help rebuild NORD’s youth football league.
NCAA Football’s efforts in New Orleans benefitted more than 2,300 children and coaches. NORD received 2,500 game jerseys and pants from Russell Athletic, and more than 900 balls and youth pads from Wilson Sporting Goods. Additionally, NCAA Football purchased girdles and discounted cleats for NORD participants, which continue to be used every football season.
NCAA Football’s contribution to New Orleans provided a boost for NORD youth football that continues to allow the program to develop and flourish at a much faster pace in its post-Katrina era.
New Orleans Was Just the Beginning
Building on the success in New Orleans, in 2008, NCAA Football committed $1.5 million to develop a national youth program to attract more youth participants to the game, provide young athletes with additional motivation to pursue higher education, offer opportunities for kids to develop the necessary skills to be successful on and off the field, and to help establish a new base of lifelong NCAA Football fans.
NCAA Football’s board of directors created a special committee dedicated to the Youth Initiative and appointed Bob Vecchione, then senior associate executive director of the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics, as chair. NCAA Football’s youth committee created a three-pronged program composed of free youth football clinics held in partnership with bowls nationwide, a college replica apparel and equipment grant, and a legacy donation to enhance the promotion of youth football in BCS National Championship host communities.
Since its inception, NCAA Football’s Youth Initiative has contributed to three significant and sustainable community projects that have been designed to positively impact young athletes in their respective cities for many years to come.
A Look at Past Legacy Gifts
Moore Park, Miami, 2008-09
In honor of its 75th anniversary, the Orange Bowl Committee spearheaded a $5.7 million legacy gift initiative to build a much needed football stadium at Miami’s Moore Park
. The Orange Bowl Committee directly contributed $2.5 million to the project plus design fees, and guaranteed an additional $700,000 for completion of the youth sports complex. The $2.5 million plus gift was matched by the city of Miami, which partnered with the Committee to construct Orange Bowl Field at Moore Park.
NCAA Football joined the Orange Bowl Committee, the host of the 2009 BCS National Championship Game, and made a $50,000 donation to reinforce the importance of providing young athletes with proper fields, facilities and equipment.
A community event was held in January 2011 to celebrate the opening of the park, which is a state-of-the-art facility that features a Desso synthetic field turf playing surface; a six-lane rubberized track with shot put, discus, high jump, long jump and pole value areas; seating for up to 1,500 people; home and away locker rooms; home and away restrooms and concessions; an air conditioned press box with a new public address system; Musco field lighting; and an electronic scoreboard.
Robinson Park, Pasadena, 2009-10
, named for Jackie Robinson, who broke baseball's color barrier in 1947 and grew up just blocks from the public park, was part of a 1970s Northwest Pasadena redevelopment effort to serve neighborhood recreational and open space needs.
As one of the most heavily used public recreation facilities located in a densely populated area, Robinson Park was no longer able to adequately serve the needs of residents after years of intense use and evolving community needs.
A master redevelopment plan was presented and approved by the city of Pasadena in 2002. The master plan encompassed approximately 9.5 acres at a cost of $19.5 million. NCAA Football's Youth Initiative, in conjunction with the Rose Bowl Committee, donated $50,000 to the city of Pasadena to build a new football field as part of the plan to upgrade the aging Robinson Park.
Since its grand opening in January 2010, Robinson Park has revitalized local participation, interest and attendance in youth sports, benefitting the Pasadena community.
Because the city of Pasadena did not previously have a regulation football field, 2010 was the first year that local youth football organizations were eligible to host home games and playoffs on a city field, which has contributed significantly to youth enrollment, family participation and game attendance.
Benedict Sports Complex, Tempe, 2010-11
Benedict Sports Complex
, a 20-acre multipurpose sports facility located in the heart of Tempe, Ariz., was developed into playing fields in the early 1980s. Because of its central location, the sports complex is one of the most popular facilities in the Tempe park system, and serves more than 3,000 young athletes.
At the beginning of the Fall 2010 season, the panel controlling the lights of the sports complex caught fire and was heavily damaged. In alliance with the Fiesta Bowl, NCAA Football donated $50,000 to the city of Tempe to replace the lighting panels as well as refurbish field surfaces, bleachers, irrigation systems and other facility repairs.
Returning to New Orleans 2011-12
This year, the BCS National Championship Game returned to New Orleans. NCAA Football has been working with the Allstate Sugar Bowl, the city of New Orleans, Nike and the Brees Dream Foundation on a very worthy revitalization project benefitting the youth of New Orleans East.
To date, more than 30,000 young athletes have benefitted from the NCAA Football Youth Initiative through youth clinics
, college replica apparel
and equipment grants and legacy donations.