“I focus on using sports to teach kids lessons that will translate for the rest of their lives,” says Nate Schwarze, Director of Soar Detroit Eagle Sports Club (ESC). ESC provides sports programming for kids ages 4-14 on Detroit’s east side. Kids play baseball in the summer, soccer in the spring and fall, flag football in the spring, and ice hockey and basketball in the winter.
ESC is a program of Soar Detroit, a faith-based organization that also implements a literacy tutoring program. When Nate joined the organization in 2018, most of Soar Detroit’s resources were directed towards the literacy program, and ESC had fallen to the side. Nate applied his experience in finance, business development, and as a former basketball player to help turn the program around. He has worked to build trust in the community and develop partnerships with nearby church communities in Detroit and Grosse Pointe, as well as organizations such as Eastside FC and the Eastside Hockey Foundation. Through ESC’s partnership with Project Play: Southeast Michigan and support from the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Legacy Funds, they have also implemented a coaches training initiative.
ESC recruits, trains, and engages volunteer coaches from the local area to help them develop meaningful relationships with the kids who participate. As a former Division 1 basketball player, Nate cannot stress enough the impact coaches have on each kid they interact with. ESC’s coaching initiative is focused on training volunteers to coach in an age and developmentally appropriate and positive manner that fosters a lifelong love of the sport. Some potential volunteers who come to the organization are former players, while others know little or nothing about the sport but are committed to mentoring young people. Nate meets with potential coaches over coffee to get to know them and determine if they are a good fit. He tailors coaches’ training to fill in the gaps in their experience or approach. “Some need support with positive coaching and character development. Others need support with the rules and game,” he says. ESC puts its faith values into practice by fostering an environment of love and support towards the kids and their families. Additionally, encouraging an “attitude of gratitude” towards one another and life.
ESC has earned its place as a community resource. Its standing became evident to Nate during the Covid-19 pandemic when caregivers reached out directly to him seeking help to keep their kids active and occupied. ESC was able to step up by initiating socially distanced workouts and soccer clinics with safety protocols.
Nate is grateful that ESC can serve the community and proud of how it has more recently grown to serve 1,400 kids and offer five different sports programs. The program encourages kids to play as many sports as they can and offers a variety of play options to facilitate sports sampling. While Nate describes ESC’s league as recreational, he also works to help connect kids with solid skills to more competitive opportunities. For example, he has been able to secure scholarships for three kids to play on travel teams to prepare them for college soccer.
At the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan and Project Play, we strive to lift up the impactful work of our grantees who are creating positive permanent change in people’s lives throughout southeast Michigan. This post is part of a series of profiles about our youth sports grantees.
Project Play: Southeast Michigan is driven and funded by the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation’s Youth Sports & Recreation focus area in partnership with the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan and the Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program.