Local sports league starts with a dream
Published: Thursday, January 31, 2013
Updated: Thursday, January 31, 2013 01:01
On Oct. 1, 2012, a team of innovative students from Oregon State University were awarded first place at the first annual Oregon Social Business challenge for their social business idea, STAR Sports. Now, four months later, these young entrepreneurs have turned that same business model into a reality.
The concept of STAR Sports began like any other business venture: with a dream. After developing a close relationship with a friend’s sister, who is affected by down-syndrome, OSU senior Alli Stangel dreamt of creating a sports league for children with physical disabilities.
Children with physical disabilities do not have as many opportunities to actively participate in sports leagues as their peers do. Often times, parents of children with disabilities tend to be more hesitant in letting their child participate because of the potential range of obstacles their child is likely to encounter.
According to the STAR Sports business proposal, the primary goal of the program is to create a fall, winter and spring sports league in Benton County for children with disabilities and their parents, who often feel isolated and alone.
“The league will provide children with disabilities the opportunity to get involved, learn new skills and develop long-term, meaningful relationships,” the proposal explains. “These programs promote healthier lifestyles and encourage children to compete to the best of their individual abilities.”
Pitching the idea at the Oregon Social Business Challenge was the first big step toward the actual establishment of STAR Sports.
“I came up with [the idea] in October, and the competition gave us momentum,” Stangel said. “We decided we wanted to get it running by the end of the year.”
Meeting that deadline came easier with the help of several OSU students and members of OSU’s student sponsored organization Enactus, which is “committed to using the power of entrepreneurial action to transform lives and shape a better, more sustainable world,” according to its national website.
One of the the students eager to get STAR Sports running was Eric Steensen, an OSU senior majoring in exercise and sports science, who has past experience working with disabled children.
Prior to attending OSU, Steensen volunteered at the Crystal Peaks Youth Ranch in Bend, Ore., where he worked with emotionally and physically disabled children.
“At my high school there was a boy with Down’s Syndrome who was always super shy,” Steensen said. “Whenever he came to the ranch he was a completely different person, so outgoing and in his element. When I heard [about] this program I really wanted to get involved because I hoped to create that same type of environment, free of judgment.”
Steensen, who is the initiative lead for STAR Sports, has been patiently collaborating with local businesses and schools to promote the program and expand interest.
“We are reaching out to schools in Linn and Benton Counties, and getting a flyer approved to distribute to them,” Steensen said. “As well as the IMPACT [Individualized Movement and Physical Activity for Children Today] program, which extends to children on campus, Boys and Girls Club, and Special Olympics in this area.”
Corvallis Sports Park and TOPSoccer are two local businesses that have been generous in lending their support to the STAR Sports initiative.
Blake Leary of Corvallis Sports Park has offered up the CSP facility and equipment for STAR Sports to use free of charge.
“We are interested in the STAR Sports because it is a community organized program,” Leary said. “It meets a need in the community and we want to give back to groups that need help in the community. This program is right in line with our philosophy and mission statement and we hope that this becomes a long-term partnership and that this program grows.”
Lindsay Barnum, an executive member of OSU’s Enactus, has won awards working for TOPSoccer, an Oregon outreach soccer program specifically for children with disabilities. TOPSoccer has offered training materials and input on how to run the spring soccer league STAR Sports will be putting on beginning next term.
“Everybody we have talked to and reached out to has responded, whether it be parents, friends, the OSU Athletics department, or random passerbys,” Steensen said. “They all welcome the program with open arms asking if there is anything they can do.”
Since they are a non-profit social business, the program will be sustained by participant registration fees, estimated to be around $30 per child per term, or season. The fall, winter and spring seasons reflect the OSU terms in order to make volunteering more accessible to students.
STAR Sports will make its debut with the first of four open gym days for children between the ages of 7 to 14, from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. on Feb. 7 at the Corvallis Sports Park. Open gym days are free as they hope to generate interest and create a rapport with the parents and children. Come spring term, STAR Sports will begin its spring soccer league, which will run for eight weeks and allow participants to play against each other in a structured environment.