Every day, the leadership of Niagara Frontier Sports sees barriers that prevent children from participating in programs through their sports center, which includes Niagara Frontier Volleyball. In 2014 Executive Director of Niagara Frontier Sports and The Champion Project, Kate Braun, and her team were given the green light to start TCP. The Champion Project is a sports-based, youth development, non-profit arm of Niagara Frontier Sports.  Cost and transportation are constant barriers in youth sports, so The Champion Project was established to start breaking down those walls.

“When TCP first started we knew we wanted to run, but we were a bit unsure which direction we were running in,” says Braun. “We knew we wanted to help, but it took some time for us to find our niche. Now, with a combination of community based, school based and in-house programming, we are able to introduce kids across WNY to the sport of volleyball.”

Some of the biggest barriers to participation in youth sports are cost and transportation. TCP intends to run no-cost or subsidized programming to children across Western New York. By placing programming right in their communities, or schools, more children will have access to sport. The mission is child focused, as TCP believes that all kids should have access to low cost, high quality sports programming.

Partnerships are essential to TCP’s success. TCP partners with organizations such as Project Play WNY, The United Way Girls in Sports program, Niagara Frontier Sports, Good Sports, Seneca Babcock Community Center, Algonquin Sports for Kids, Erie Community College and the Seneca Nation to meet their goals. Whether it is financial support, facility donations, equipment donation, or a pool of coaches, the WNY community has stepped up to help them.

The Champion Project works in conjunction with Niagara Frontier Sports (the facility) and Niagara Frontier Volleyball (the club) to achieve its goals. Facility space is also a huge barrier in youth sports, so TCP is very fortunate to have such a beautiful facility to host its in-house events. Niagara Frontier Volleyball gives TCP a strong base of coaches and volunteers to assist TCP with many of its events in house, and out in the community.

“Once all of the logistical/financial hurdles have been leaped, you need to be able to put a quality product on the court,” shares Braun. “Volleyball can be a difficult sport to introduce to young athletes, so you have to be deliberate about creating situations where the athletes can find success but are still challenged. Gravity plays a MUCH bigger role in this sport compared to soccer, basketball, etc, so we have to navigate those challenges well! “Champion Moments” – when kids triumphantly throw their arms in the air – need to be found during each clinic.”

The Niagara Frontier Volleyball athletes have the opportunity to coach the youngest athletes. This mentorship dynamic is impactful for everyone involved. There is a synergy between the three organizations: Niagara Frontier Sports, Niagara Frontier Volleyball, and The Champion Project. Although they all operate as separate organizations, there is tremendous support from everyone involved.

Since March of 2021, TCP programming has reached over 900 children. TCP has established a few avenues for staffing that help to enable sustainability. For instance, with in house programming, parent coaches are brought in who are eager to learn more about the sport.

“One of our favorite paradigms for a work staff is our “Collegiate Coaches Model”, where we bring college teams together with local schools and community centers. This provides youth athletes with role models who can inspire them to strive in sport. It is also a great opportunity for the collegiate teams to gain valuable leadership experience,” adds Braun.

The Champion Project is partnered with Special Olympics New York for 2022 summer programming. TCP will be running a Developmental Volleyball clinic for boys and girls ages 6-12. The coaching staff is ready to make an impact with this tremendous group of children. The WNY community has embraced this partnership and they have had support from the Down Syndrome Parents Group of WNY, People Inc., and a variety of school based programs. This is another step in TCP’s mission of making sport accessible for all kids.

The Volley Power program will begin this summer. TCP will be running summer camps, after school programs and culminating tournaments for schools in Niagara Falls, North Tonawanda and Lackawanna, NY. This amazing program is funded by the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation, and will continue over a three year period.

TCP will also continue to work with The United Way – Girls in Sports Program and Project Play WNY to continue (and expand) its school based and community based programming.

Another exciting addition to the TCP scope is TCP Academy. The Mission of TCP Academy is to provide team based volleyball opportunities for 12 and under players across WNY. Again, TCP will work to break down the barriers of cost and accessibility, while providing a competitive team lane for all athletes.

TCP has long term, lofty goal such as: increase student attendance in school, introduce more modified sports programs to school districts, increase participation in scholastic sport, provide more opportunities for club team participation, and improve graduation rates. But, the short term focus of TCP is to allow kids to experience joy through sport and just have fun! The program uses the power of sport to develop CHAMPIONS.

If your club is interested in creating a similar model as The Champion Project, begin by designating a few passionate people to collaborate. It takes coordination between the club, community centers/schools, and local colleges, but as long as everyone has the same goals in mind, you can be successful in implementing this program. Your collaboration will make for a stronger volleyball community. For additional guidance, contact the JVA at members@jvavolleyball.org.

To learn more about The Champion Project click here. 

In addition to Kate Braun, Executive Director, the Team includes:

Don Gleason – Associate Director
Craig Starzynski – Program Director
Eli Irizarry – Assistant Program Director

Niagara Frontier Volleyball (West Seneca, NY) is a member of the Junior Volleyball Association, an organization that is 100% focused on improving the junior volleyball experience for the athletes, coaches, directors and fans.