Youth sports took a hit during the pandemic, something the USA Basketball Foundation hopes to help rectify this year
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit with a thunderous force in March 2020, it impacted everyone worldwide, regardless of race, gender, or country.
Adults perhaps were better equipped to handle the adversity of having to work remotely and hunkering down at home with family. Children, however, were another story. They suddenly found themselves cut off from their normal lives at school, hanging out with friends and, notably, staying active and playing the sports that they loved.
Now, the process of making up for lost time and filling in the blanks created over the past 20 months is in full swing.
With that in mind as Giving Tuesday — one of the biggest philanthropic days of the year — approaches, the USA Basketball Foundation is focusing on supporting USA Basketball's youth programs. Giving Tuesday originated in 2012 and occurs the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, which this year is Nov. 30.
“The pandemic was hard on all of us, but I think our youth really took a hit,” said Jennifer Lynne Williams, who took over as the USA Basketball Foundation’s chief development officer on July 1. “A lot of activities were canceled. You saw some states cancel high school and middle school sports altogether. And sports make people happy, it brings out the best and it gives you an outlet. When that was taken away during the pandemic, a lot was taken away from our youth.”
Included in that were the numerous youth skill camps and clinics USA Basketball annually conducts nationwide. During the pandemic, USA Basketball shifted to hosting virtua campsl, but it just wasn’t the same as hanging out with other players of the same age and learning skills with hands-on drills.
“It’s hard to substitute that in-person element,” said Williams, who was a captain of the University of North Carolina women’s basketball team for two seasons. “Now that we’re able to get out and go into these different cities and states and put on these camps, we want to continue to inspire our youth to be active, to move, to use sport as a way to help with mental health. That’s part of our empowering youth platform.”
Focusing on youth isn’t new for the USA Basketball Foundation, which was created in 2019 and generates funding and support for programs held year-round. In fact, empowering youth is one of the three foundation pillars, along with championing women and promoting social responsibility.
Conducting camps and clinics for youths isn’t as simple as bringing a couple racks of basketballs to an open gym. USA Basketball often has to find and rent a facility, arrange transportation and lodging for staff and camp personnel, pack and send various types of equipment, jerseys and other swag for players, as well as other items that make the experience on par with the USA Basketball name and legacy.
"One of our goals is to make more people aware of what we offer for our youth—our future champions—and to encourage prospective donors and corporations to support these initiatives with a financial contribution,” Williams said. “It’s been a blessing to have some corporate sponsors and donors step up to the plate, but we need more.
“A lot of people don’t realize how many camps and clinics our Youth & Sport Development staff put on annually. So how can you support USA Basketball if you don’t know about the programing taking place, and the impact that these camps and clinics are having on our youth.”
While the foundation is concentrating on empowering youth this Giving Tuesday, that doesn’t mean donations can only be made for that area.
“While we are pushing the support of our youth programming, we’re not going to restrict people to just that — that’s just what we’re focused on at the moment,” Williams said. “We’re going to look at going into the first quarter of next year talking more about our Women in the Game conferences, and opportunities to champion women throughout the year –and beyond—because we will be celebrating 50 years of Title IX. But if a current donor or a prospect is inclined to give to one of our other pillars, they can let us know and we will make sure it happens.”
Donations also start at home, with Williams saying she is expecting every member of the USA Basketball staff to make a donation — large or small — for Giving Tuesday. Since this is her first Giving Tuesday with the USA Basketball Foundation, Williams does have a target for how much money she hopes to raise the week of Giving Tuesday but is keeping that number quiet for the moment. In her previous fundraising experiences on college campuses — where she often started a Giving Tuesday program — she said all started modestly and grew each year.
“We know there was a brief hiatus (due to the pandemic), but we’re back, and I’m really ready to rev up everything within the USA Basketball Foundation, because there are some great causes that we’re working to support and we need everyone onboard,” Williams said. “We know that people have a lot of charities and foundations and ways to give their funding, but we hope that they really consider the USA Basketball Foundation, because our focus is not about financially supporting our national teams. It’s about impacting and empowering our youth, championing women and promoting social responsibility.”
To make a donation on Giving Tuesday or at any other time, visit https://usabfoundation.org/charity-stripe/. As a bonus, those who give on Nov. 30, will receive a 15% off promo code to use at shop.usab.com. In addition to the promo code, fans who become members of the Charity Stripe by making monthly donations can qualify for signed merchandise and tickets to USA Basketball events, among other items.
“Spread the word, get your friends to give — every amount counts,” Williams said. “It doesn’t have to be an enormous amount— even though we like those gifts — but if you can give $25, $50, $100, that helps us reach our goal. I’m looking more at participation versus dollars given right now, because the donations will come as long as we continue to tell our story.”
Steve Drumwright is a journalist based in Murrieta, California. He is a freelance contributor to USAB.com on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.