Brooks Booster Club expands reach, fuels youth track team dreams
By Leah Etling
When Jordan Hamm reaches out to a high school track or cross country coach to let them know that their program is the recipient of a Brooks Booster Club grant from Seattle-based running brand Brooks Sports, he can hear the emotion at the other end of the phone line.
“It’s always amazing to hear the coach’s response,” said Hamm, sports marketing specialist for Brooks and the lead staff member for the Booster Club program. “Some of these coaches are in tears knowing that their kids are going to have their lives changed in a meaningful way,” said Hamm. “Others are silent and just kind of in awe.”
Founded in 2015, the Brooks Booster Club has helped 150 schools and 6,100 young runners across the country. Each team selected receives $12,400 MSRP in Brooks gear, including shoes and uniforms, as well as a $2,000 grant for the athletic department to be used at the coach’s discretion. In the last six years, Brooks has invested more than $2.1 million in cash and gear, and it will increase the number of schools it funds in 2021 to 32 across the U.S.
Here are two of their stories.
Expanding horizons in Oakland Park, Fl.
Duchane Thomas Cole, head women’s track and field coach at Northeast High School in Overland Park, Florida, has a team of talented athletes. Overland Park track alumni represent their alma mater at over 100 colleges and universities on full scholarships and have earned accolades on the world, national and state levels. But bringing home medals on the track doesn’t guarantee immunity from budget cuts.
“Unfortunately, due to budget cuts to athletics, resources are insufficient at times. This leads to athletic programs fundraising to help offset the cost of traveling and equipment. As a coach, how can I support this group of young ladies get the necessary equipment, shoes, clothing, and funds needed to travel?,” Cole asked.
“As an African American woman from the inner-city, I understand some of the social and economic issues our young ladies face today. Most of these young women don’t have the resources to purchase the proper training shoes, equipment, and nutrition to excel to the best of their ability in sports.”
Cole discovered and applied for the Brooks Booster Club grant after noticing that Brooks had sponsored a major national track meet where her athletes competed.
In February of 2020, I received a phone call from Jordan informing me that the women’s team was selected to receive the Brooks Booster Club sponsorship. This was a very emotional day for me. Unbeknownst to Jordan, we had concluded a team meeting the week prior. I informed the ladies that due to budget cuts; we would not purchase uniforms or travel outside of the county for athletic exposure. I was in disbelief, emotional, excited, and most importantly, thankful. Brooks Booster club support has allowed these young ladies the opportunity to dream big and focus on excelling in the sport of track and field,” Cole said.
She also applied for and was awarded $10,000 in travel assistance from Dick’s Sporting Goods to help the team make it to major meets.
She explained why she had looked for outside help for the team. “Before the sponsorship, we would have to ask individuals in the community for funds to purchase shoes. Often athletes could go without the proper running shoes due to a lack of financial resources. Most of the young women on the team are from single-parent households, where parents work two to three jobs to survive. Hence, purchasing shoes and apparel is nonexistent at times. Having a company such as Brooks step in and help financially has allowed the team to compete without worrying about expenses.”
Bringing team pride to Norte Vista, Ca.
Rafael Perez, head cross country coach, assistant track coach and a social sciences teacher at Norte Vista High School in Riverside, Calif., knew that his team would benefit greatly from the gear and donation.
“My first reaction was this could not be real. I had never won anything like this before and I was just in shock and I went to my assistant coach at the time and had her read it as well to make sure it was legitimate,” said Perez. He knew the gear and fund would make a huge difference for his athletes.
“They were in disbelief and could not believe the extent of the grant,” Perez recalled. “They were incredibly appreciative and could not wait to wear the new shoes, jackets, and jerseys for our meets. They also were excited that we can look more uniform with one another.”
Perez had set out to find outside grants because his school could not afford to fully fund the material needs of the Norte Vista cross country program.
“I had started my cross country career in a program with a large parent booster group in an affluent neighborhood that always had funds for resources for the team,” he recalled. “I wanted to help the Norte Vista team gain the same level of professionalism that my previous team had, like canopies with the school’s name and jackets to wear on meet day. There was not a lot of funds at my disposal to make this happen and expected it would take years for me to get the team to where I envisioned it could be one day.”
The Brooks Booster Club support helped him achieve his goal, and he also applied for and received grants from the Aftershokz Making Stridez Grant, Running Warehouse, and Donorschoose.
The impact on his athletes has been evident.
“The investment in our program from Brooks made a huge impact on our sense of pride. Many of our students took greater ownership in raising the standards of our program. Many of the leaders on the team would say it helped them create a stronger legacy among the team and proud to wear the gear we got that has our names on it,” Perez said.
Back at Brooks, Hamm explains that the company is motivated to support the program not only to help schools in need and improve access to great running gear, but to encourage the next generation of runners from all walks of life. One of the program’s goals is to reach more coaches who have never heard of the program before and help raise up their efforts. He hopes to use the power of word of mouth within the running community to do that.
“There’s things that we often take for granted. When you say, ‘it’s so easy to go out for a run, just put on a pair of shoes and go.’ That’s not always so easy, depending on your scenario. We want to make sure that kids have the opportunity to try running and love it,” Hamm said.
Perez agrees. “Young athletes are the future of running. We have events all year round that bring runners out to compete in local 5ks to marathons and so many say they wish they tried it sooner. I think the more companies that follow Brooks in creating grants and scholarships for young programs may attract more people to the sport at younger ages. Running is a hard sell to high school athletes, and when we get grants like this it helps us boost our numbers because students want to be in programs that have investment.”
Learn more about the Brooks Booster Club at https://www.brooksrunning.com/en_us/programs/booster-club/