It’s Not About the Ball: How the Anderson Monarchs Build Community with a Multi-Sport Approach

An Interview with Amos Huron, Executive Director of the Anderson Monarchs, Philadelphia

That Program Across the Street

I’m not originally from Philadelphia. I moved in 2004, into a neighborhood called Graduate Hospital—so, South Philadelphia. I was living in a group house with some friends of mine from my college years, and we lived directly across the street from a rec[reation] center. I’d come out of the building and look across the street, and see these flourishing, vibrant, mostly baseball and soccer programs.

“I grew up playing sports in D.C., through high school, and initially went to college to play football, so I have a sense for what a well-run sports program looks like. And, having grown up in a city, I was aware of just how rare baseball especially, but also soccer, are in urban and predominately African American communities—I’m very familiar with the history and all the ways in which race and baseball are intertwined. So, it sort of piqued my interest.”

While he didn’t immediately reach out, the idea stuck with him.

The Anderson Monarchs team bus in Philadelphia

Then, when Huron was a graduate student in 2007, he decided to introduce himself, and quickly learned that his sense of the program was right.

“I introduced myself to the person in charge, who turned out to be Steve Bandura, and he asked if I’d like to throw batting practice to the team,” Huron says. “We talked. I asked him questions, he asked me questions. At the end, I asked, ‘when can I come back?’

“He said, ‘How about tomorrow?’”

It wasn’t long before Huron had become an important part of the Anderson Monarchs’ coaching staff.

“He decided that I was trustworthy, and I was really into it—he told me that there was a group of 8-year-old kids that he had hoped would work together as a team next year, but that he didn’t have anyone to coach them.”

Huron jumped at the chance. He began coaching the group of 12 kids through soccer in the fall, basketball in the winter, and baseball in the spring, following the Anderson Monarchs’ model of year-round sports-based youth development, with a multi-sport approach.

Quickly, it became a volunteer position that saw Huron spending 15-20 hours per week at the program.

“I fell in love with the program—this culture of giving back, where the older kids were helping the younger kids; there were always parents, aunts and uncles, doing whatever they could do help the program; there was this sense of high expectations. I would watch how Steve would run his practices, and realize that it was okay to ask a lot of the kids, and that if they fell short, that’s when you encourage them—but that they weren’t going to get anywhere if you never set any high expectations.

“Generally, there was just this culture of on- and off-field excellence that was exciting to be a part of.”

When Huron graduated from his program in journalism, he applied for a job with Philadelphia Parks & Recreation. That allowed him to put a full-time effort into building community and coaching kids at the recreation center.


Origins

Steve started this program in 1995,” Huron explains. “He had been volunteering at this rec center for about five years at that point—he was brought in initially as a boxing coach (there’s a boxing gym here). When he got here, he immediately became concerned with the idea that there weren’t really any team sports options for kids in this community.”

Founder Steve Bandura in 1997

“By ’95, he felt like there was enough of a foundation based on the participation in what we call ‘in-house’ leagues—basically rec leagues—that they’d be able to take them out and play in some of the city-wide rec leagues, with slightly higher competition and kids from around the city.”

That was based partly on how Bandura had grown up.

In Bandura’s experience, his neighborhood in Philadelphia had put together youth sports programs, which would then compete against other, similar programs across the city. That meant the same kids would largely stay together across multiple sports and multiple seasons, fostering a strong sense of community.

“He was kind of shocked when he came to South Philly. He realized that what he had grown up with was not the norm—that these programs didn’t exist in other parts of the city.”

That was the inspiration for the Anderson Monarchs program: To not only offer team sports to local kids, but also offer them a multi-sport, year-round, community-focused program.

“He felt like there was real power in having the kids stay together year round—it’s not the same when it’s only one season at a time.”


Growth and Opportunity

When I got here in 2007, that team that I first coached was one of two ‘travel’ teams—we call them ‘travel’ for lack of a better word,” Huron says. “Travel sort of gets stigmatized, so we don’t want to be lumped in the negative way, but one of the best things that we do is travel with the kids and give them these experiences that they wouldn’t otherwise have.

Steve Bandura with his son, Scott (left) in 2015

“We now have six [of those teams], so that alone speaks to the kind of increased capacity that we have to do ‘deep’ programming, where they’re with us year round, getting support on and off the field.

That’s because of a sustained—and increasing—interest in the program from the local community, as well as a growing staff of coaches and volunteers.

It’s also because of a growing appreciation for the need to build structure into the program, with a board of directors, which (after five years of experience working in the nonprofit sector) Huron helped build.

“I think Steve has done a really good job of opening the program up, and inviting other adults in, providing them with feedback and training to keep them involved. So, now we’ve got anywhere from 15–20 volunteers, parents, and former players—just this nice mixed of committed, skilled coaches.”

Compare that to organizations who exclusively rely on parents, or AAU-style programs with 100% professional coaches, and you’ll see that the key is the balance—that mix of volunteer, parent, and pro is what makes the program sustainable and focused on its original goals.


Measuring Success

“We tend to measure our relationships with our kids in years—it’s not a six-week cycle,” says Huron. “Many of the kids who are graduating from our high school program this year we’ve known since they were 7 or 8 years old, and some since they were 4 and 5 years old. So it’s really about building a long term support structure for the community.”

Still, there are always uses for data.

“Just seeing who is showing up, and how consistently they’re showing up, helps us with feedback and program design,” outlines Huron. “There’s insights that can be gleaned just from attendance patterns, and that is what we’re digging into right now.”

With the increased capacity from building a large team of support staff and coaches, more bandwidth can be dedicated to data management.

“I think that’s really all due to Steve creating a culture, where people want to give back, and where they have the space to do that. He’s always been aware that there are things that he’s very good at, and some areas where he needs help—there’s not a lot of ego around ‘this is all mine,’ etc. It’s about bringing in talented people and given them the opportunity to succeed.

“It’s a good mix,” Huron adds.

Indeed. In fact, it’s a recipe for success. ^DFG

Thanks very much to Amos Huron!

Story by Bryan Kitch for the UpMetrics journal, Data For Good. Photos courtesy of Anderson Monarchs.

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