Harris ’06 & Lyle ’08 Friess: Taking a Shot at Making a Difference

group photo

Harris and Lyle Friess (front row from left) show off their Badger spirit with members of the Brooklyn Youth Sports Club, which they formed in 2009. The program uses basketball as an entry point to promote academic excellence and college attendance. Photo: Robert Hooman.

 

In the game of basketball, there are a lot of options at your disposal when you’re on the court. You can play zone or man-to-man defense. And when you’ve got the ball in your hands, you can dribble, pass, or shoot it.

But after that final buzzer sounds, if you’re an underprivileged kid growing up on the streets of Brooklyn, New York, your options seemingly dry up. Oftentimes, these teens are left feeling that their only option includes a life of poverty, gangs, and drugs. Harris ’06 and Lyle ’08 Friess set out to change that way of thinking when they founded the Brooklyn Youth Sports Club in 2009.

The not-for-profit organization includes an elite AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) traveling basketball program (appropriately named the Brooklyn Badgers) designed to expose these student-athletes to college, with the specific goal of garnering scholarships; as well as an accompanying educational program, called Beyond Basketball. “We had over five hundred kids come to the initial tryouts, and they weren’t there to be tutored,” says Harris. “But once you get them in the gym, that’s when you can get them focused in the classroom.” That’s the idea behind the Brooklyn Youth Sports Club: use basketball as an entry point to engage student-athletes in their educational development.

At the conclusion of the tryouts, the seventy-five student-athletes who were chosen were assigned to six teams, broken into age groups ranging from fourteen to seventeen. From now on, they will be held to a high standard of educational accountability that requires attendance and active participation in the Beyond Basketball program, which provides individual tutoring, SAT preparation, team study halls, college guidance, and other services.

“Watching kids transform has been the greatest joy of all,” says Lyle. “We’ve had kids who entered the program failing out of school, involved with gangs and drugs, and who are now taking new stock in their lives.”

Lyle and his brother realize that they’ve tapped into something special, which is why both work full time on management, fundraising, and other day-to-day operations to ensure the club’s continued success. “Give kids positive attention, give them options and support, and those troubled kids will be more determined to go to college,” says Harris.

Whether any of them will attend UW–Madison is an open question, but the Friesses are convinced it would be the students’ top choice if they were to make a campus visit.

“How can you spend one game at Camp Randall, or one afternoon at the Union, and not choose Wisconsin?” asks Harris. “We both applied to and visited many different colleges, but no other schools were as versatile and balanced socially and academically as Wisconsin.”

In 2012, the Brooklyn Youth Sports Club will see its first group of student-athletes graduate from high school, and they expect 100 percent of them to enroll in college.

“All of our kids want to change their circumstances,” says Lyle. “We offer a path to do that.”

Published in the Winter 2011 issue

Tags: Alumni, Athletics

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