2018 Sports Award Finalists Honored By Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

The Sports Award recognizes innovative approaches to using sport to make communities healthier.

    • September 20, 2018
A smiling boy climbs a rock wall.

Princeton, N.J.—The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) has announced 14 finalists for the 2018 Sports Award, an honor recognizing professional teams, individuals and organizations that strengthen and serve communities through sport. The winners will be honored on November 15, 2018, during an awards presentation at the Foundation’s headquarters in Princeton, N.J.

The Sports Award recognizes innovative and influential approaches to using sports to make communities healthier places to live. Approaches may include: helping children maintain a healthy weight, creating safe play environments, encouraging positive behaviors, eliminating bullying, abuse and violence, and expanding opportunities for children living in poverty.

Past winners include the Chicago Fire Foundation, Doc Wayne, Doug Flutie Foundation for Autism, InnerCity Weightlifting, MLSE Foundation, PeacePlayers International, San Francisco Giants Community Fund, The Moyer Foundation and Tony Hawk Foundation.

“Congratulations to the 2018 finalists for the RWJF Sports Award and the inspiring ways they are building happier, healthier communities through athletics," said Richard Besser, RWJF president and CEO. "Their dedication to their neighbors—and innovative approaches to sports—are bringing excitement, pride and vitality to their neighborhoods.”

Below are the finalists in each category:

A professional sports team community relations department or foundation:

City in the Community (CITC)—the charity foundation proudly supported by New York City FC—was launched in New York City in December of 2014. With the support of fans, CITC uses the power of soccer to promote health, education and leadership development and create safe community spaces, where programming is free of charge for more than 4,000 young people each week. This builds on City Football Group’s long-standing tradition of community initiatives in NYC. In 2010, Manchester City FC and the UAE Embassy built a rooftop soccer pitch at PS72 (East Harlem’s Lexington Academy), and in 2013, New York City FC was officially launched on that same pitch. Since then, the first-of-its-kind, synthetic grass pitch has provided hundreds of young people a safe place to play soccer, and City has proudly served more than 30,000 young people across the five boroughs.

The Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy uses the sports of baseball and softball as vehicles to foster positive character development, academic achievement, and improved health among youth from underserved communities in Washington, D.C. The Academy primarily serves 150 youth ages 8–13 during the out-of-school-time programs (summer and after-school). All of these Scholar-Athletes reside in Ward 7 & 8, Washington, D.C., communities located east of the Anacostia River.  Programming is rigorous, research-based, and diverse, giving youth opportunities to improve their physical fitness and academic performance, while gaining exposure to new experiences throughout the year—all free of cost to the child and their family. Beyond this core program, the Academy provides 800 young men and women with additional baseball and softball opportunities through YBA PLAY, supports 100 families in building a Culture of Health through nutrition education, cooking workshops, and community events.

An individual athlete or professional coach's foundation:

Kids Play International was founded by three-time Olympian, Tracy Evans, aimed to promote gender equity and the Olympic values by introducing less familiar sports to children in post-genocide affected countries. Grounded in the Olympic value of fair play, KPI leverages the positive attributes of sport to empower youth to challenge and shift gender, social and cultural norms that reinforce inequality. The organization creates a safe, positive environment through sport to renegotiate these harmful cultural norms, giving young girls the same opportunities as boys to reach their full potential and find better ways to live, work and play together.

After representing the U.S. Men’s National Team in the 2002 FIFA World Cup, Tony Sanneh established The Sanneh Foundation (TSF) in 2003 to leverage the universal appeal of sports to provide high-quality and holistic youth development opportunities for Minnesota’s increasingly diverse youth population to become positive and productive adults. TSF’s mission is to empower youth by promoting and supporting academic success, improve lives by strengthening physical health and social and emotional development, and unite communities by advancing diversity, equity and community well-being. Aligning this mission with culturally relevant programming, TSF achieves its goals by connecting positive adults with students as tutors, mentors and classroom assistants, delivering free community camps that provide positive exposure to sports, and access to community centers and recreational facilities that foster community cohesion and active lifestyles.

An organization that is an influential leader and model for others:

All Girl Everything Ultimate Program (AGE UP) is an empowerment-based youth leadership and community-building program for young people in South Seattle, particularly young women of color. We use young people’s passion for ultimate Frisbee to mobilize their investment in long-term intentional work developing leadership skills, critical awareness, healthy habits, and positive identity. Our combination of deep social justice healing work and athletics is unique and powerful. The majority of both our participants and Leadership Team are members of immigrant and refugee communities in South Seattle.

Border Youth Tennis Exchange (BYTE) is a binational youth development organization that offers professional quality tennis classes and after-school academic mentorship to kids on both sides of the U.S./Mexico border. Part of the USTA Foundation's National Junior Tennis & Learning network, BYTE academics include curriculums in digital storytelling, behavioral intelligence, gender violence, and STEAM, all taught by local, bilingual educators. Beyond engaging border youth in safe, productive out-of-school recreation, BYTE sports diplomacy programs connect student-athletes across the border, providing unique opportunities to be international grassroots community ambassadors."

Using the sport of hockey, the mission of Snider Hockey is to build lives and unite communities, helping educate young people to succeed in the game of life.  They meld the allure of hockey with the objective of maximizing scholastic achievement in their flagship initiative, the After-School Excellence Program (ASEP). In addition to developing skills and knowledge to realize their academic potential, students in ASEP benefit from a simple reality: Time spent in the out-of-school-time programs is time spent productively, away from potentially destructive influences.

Figure Skating in Harlem (FSH) is a pioneering youth development organization that combines the power of education with access to the artistic discipline of figure skating to help girls of color thrive and become strong leaders. Their mission is to help girls transform their lives and grow in confidence, leadership, and academic achievement. Their  vision is for every student, regardless of socio-economic background, to develop the foundational academic, social and leadership skills to achieve her dreams. She will be a powerful speaker, an effective leader, live a healthy lifestyle and be a global citizen. With 22 years of experience in New York City, in 2017 FSH launched their first chapter in Detroit, bringing their powerful and effective programming to a whole new community and expanding their impact.

With over 30 years of on-the-ground experience, the LA84 Foundation is a nationally recognized leader in support of youth sport programs and public education about the role of sports in positive youth development. The foundation has supported over three thousand youth sports organizations in Southern California through grant making, while training nearly 200,000 coaches, commissioning research, convening conferences and acting as a national thought leader on important youth sports issues. These efforts have led to 3.9 million youth impacted since inception. LA84 levels the playing field to ensure play equity so that sport is accessible to all children, while working collaboratively to ensure youth sports is an integral part of American life.

Lakeshore Foundation is a nonprofit organization located in Birmingham, Alabama that provides opportunity for people with a physical disability or chronic health condition to be active and independent through physical activity, research and advocacy & policy. They are distinct as a U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Site that brings elite athletes from across the globe to train and compete. Their advocacy and policy team invites people with and without disabilities to be engaged, informed and empowered to create partnerships that promote inclusion, access and equal representation in our local, national and global policy initiatives. The National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability, which is housed at Lakeshore as part of the UAB/Lakeshore Research Collaborative, works to improve the health and wellness of people with disability by supporting accessible and inclusive public health promotion programs.

Through the discipline of rowing and rigorous academic support, Row New York transforms the lives of New Yorkers, regardless of background or ability. Each year, Row New York serves approximately 270 student-athletes from under-resourced communities in our year-round middle and high school programs. In addition, the organization offers programming for 1,500 teens in public schools and 300 individuals with disabilities. As student-athletes learn stroke technique and build strength and fitness, they develop the confidence and endurance to push beyond their personal limits. Programs empower youth to become strong, healthy, competitive athletes, and curious, highly motivated students with a love of learning and a capacity for realizing their full potential.

Soccer in the Streets empowers underserved youth through sports-based training, character development, mentoring, and employability programs. Our organization serves in a holistic and comprehensive way. Reaching kids on the field, in small-group classroom sessions, through hands-on experiences and activities, and participation in youth leadership councils. Equal access to quality soccer training and educational opportunities, as well as leveling the playing field across the board, are also key elements in our core mission. Our organization is behind the construction and programming of the first soccer field inside a metro hub—‘Station Soccer’, an innovation recognized worldwide.

Soccer Without Borders runs year-round youth development programs in under-served areas in the USA and abroad, using soccer as a vehicle for positive change. Through soccer, education, and community activities, SWB programs provide youth with a toolkit to overcome obstacles to growth, inclusion and personal success. Operating in multiple locations throughout the United States and internationally, SWB provides year-round direct services to more than 2,000 refugee and immigrant youth and marginalized girls ages 5–20 from 60 different countries of origin, speaking 29 languages.

Since its founding in 1976, the United States Association of Blind Athletes (USABA), a community-based organization of the United States Olympic Committee, has reached more than 100,000 blind individuals. The organization has emerged as more than just a world-class trainer of blind athletes, it has become a champion of the abilities of Americans who are legally blind. USABA’s mission: to empower Americans who are blind and visually impaired to experience life-changing opportunities in sports, recreation and physical activities, thereby educating and inspiring the nation.


About the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Sports Award

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Sports Award honors the innovative and collaborative efforts of individuals, organizations and teams that are making their communities healthier through sport. For more information on the award, visit www.rwjf.org/sportsaward.


About the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

For more than 40 years the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has worked to improve the health and health care of all Americans. We are striving to build a national culture of health that will enable all Americans to live longer, healthier lives now and for generations to come. For more information, visit www.rwjf.org. Follow the Foundation on Twitter at twitter.com/rwjf or on Facebook at facebook.com/RobertWoodJohnsonFoundation.

Media Contacts

Jordan Reese

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (609) 627-6322

Inspiring Healthier Communities Through Sport

The RWJF Sports Award recognizes innovative and collaborative approaches to making communities healthier places to live.

Learn more about the award