Someone might score a slew of touchdowns, or they might be able to dunk on a defender. You can hit a baseball a country mile but what does it matter if you’re not stepping up to the plate off the field, too?
What an athlete does after the buzzer ends is just as important as the game itself. The skills that it takes to be a leader on the field are many of the same that it takes to be a leader off of it, which is why the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southeastern Michigan and Xenith, the sports equipment and apparel company that relocated from Boston to Detroit in 2015, are partnering up in their shared mission to develop and support the 21st-century athlete. This philosophy is centered on three core values: Competition, Career, and Character.
“We’re building out the on- and off-field opportunities. The 21st-century athlete is the future,” says Ryan Sullivan, Xenith CEO.
It’s a partnership that came about naturally, built from a foundation of shared values between the two organizations and their leaders. The two organizations are frequent partners. Xenith not only provides different facets of athletic support to the young people of BGCSM but personal development support, too.
BGCSM President and CEO Shawn H. Wilson
“Organized sports make great leaders," says Shawn H. Wilson, president and CEO of BGCSM.
“As an athlete you have to learn how to work as a team, to pull your own weight, to work with people from different backgrounds toward a common goal.”
Competition: Sports as catalyst for change
As part of the work to develop and support the 21st-century athlete, firing up a healthy sense of competition is key. The BGCSM-Xenith partnership most recently made the news in October when it was announced that BGCSM and Xenith — along with community partner Blaze Contracting, Inc. — had entered an agreement to cumulatively invest more than $100,000 into the Greater Metropolitan Youth Sports league. The partnership with the league, which itself has served the youth of Metro Detroit for over 50 years, saved the 2020 season for almost 2,700 young athletes.
Not only did the athletes of GMYS get to keep playing, they now have direct access to Xenith’s state-of-the-art football equipment and the many personal and career development opportunities of BGCSM.
“Central to the 21st-century athlete is about what happens both on and off the field, how the game of football can enrich their lives,” Sullivan says. “This sport can be a catalyst for change.”
On the field, Xenith has worked with BGCSM and GMYS to develop a community-based pricing model, helping Detroit’s young athletes gain access to top-rated football equipment and league play at a more affordable price. They’re helping to bring an expansion team to the league, and they’ve donated equipment and uniforms for not only the tackle football league, but for the lower-impact flag football and 7-on-7 touch football leagues, too.
Career: Creating an ecosystem of economic mobility
The off-the-field programming, however, is where the BGCSM-Xenith partnership has a competitive advantage. With Wilson’s Reimagine initiative for BGCSM, he’s attempting to create an ecosystem of economic mobility for the surrounding neighborhoods of each BGCSM Club. And not only for the young people, but their parents, too. That’s being achieved in a variety of ways, including Ponyride coworking spaces and the Industry Club. The goal, Wilson says, is to have each young person be career, startup, and homeowner-ready by the time that they’re 18 years old.
Ryan Sullivan, Xenith
A partnership with a company like Xenith also fits into Wilson’s vision of connecting members of the Boys & Girls Clubs with networking opportunities and real-life experiences in the workplace. If a student is interested in attending the College for Creative Studies, for example, then Wilson and Sullivan can tap a Xenith employee who attended CCS to offer mentorship and advice. Or perhaps someone is looking for employment opportunities at Xenith itself.
“It’s been pretty incredible. We’re fortunate for the work that they’re doing, elevating what Boys & Girls Clubs can be across the country,” Sullivan says.
“It’s been great as an observer but even better now as a participant.”
Character: Creating servant-leaders
Finally, building character by empowering youth to make their voices heard, even in difficult conversations, is important in the 21st-century athlete’s growth. Xenith has been involved in many of the BGCSM enrichment programs and events, and even before the GMYS partnership. In September, for example, Xenith collaborated with the Detroit Sports Commission and BGCSM to hold the Xenith Prep Kickoff Classic Community Summit.
Community leaders and coaches gathered to discuss the title topic, “Racial Inequality and Sport.” It was an impressive list of Detroit leaders, including Judge Mariam Bazzi; former Detroit Piston and current television broadcaster Greg Kelser; and Wayne State University football coach Paul Winters.
Such panels and forums are intended to equip young athletes with the ability to speak about potentially uncomfortable subjects like racial and social justice issues. Wilson wants to see young athletes take the lead on these types of conversations.
“Athletes are often seen as leaders. If they’re in a group and someone says a racial remark and an athlete stands up to say that something’s not right, that carries a lot of weight amongst their peers,” Wilson says.
The idea of a 21st-century athlete informs the philosophies of both BGCSM and Xenith. Teamwork does make the dream work, after all.
“Not enough people are working as servant-leaders. If one loses, we all lose,” Wilson says.
“You can’t have one player running in the opposite direction on the field. You’ll lose. There are lessons from athletics that can apply to this country: Work together.”