Project Play Champion Logo.jpg

The Fort Named One of 21 National
Project Play Champions By Aspen Institute

The Fred Wells Tennis and Education Center (The Fort) was one of 21 organizations nationwide, and the only one in Minnesota, to be named a 2018 Project Play Champion by the Aspen Institute. The Fort, who was also the only tennis organization recognized, was honored during the Project Play Summit October 16 in Washington DC, which featured keynote speaker and NBA legend Kobe Bryant.

The Aspen Institute gathers diverse, non-partisan thought-leaders, creatives, scholars and members of the public to address some of the world’s most complex problems. The goal of these meetings is to have an impact beyond the conference room and are designed to provoke, further and improve actions taken in the real world. One such action is its Project Play initiative which is a multi-year effort to grow national sport participation rates and related metrics among youth with a shared goal of making sport accessible to all kids, regardless of zip code or ability.

Project Play Champions are organizations taking new, meaningful and specific actions consistent with the findings of the Aspen Institute’s Project Play - which offers a pathway identifying eight strategies for the eight sectors that touch the lives of children. Since introducing the report, which can be found in Sport for All, Play for Life: A Playbook to Get Every Kid in the Game, more than 100 organizations nationwide have introduced programs or shaped their youth strategies accordingly – from professional leagues to media companies to local sport providers. The United States Olympic Committee used the report to inform its American Development Model. The International Olympic Committee recognized it as a key resource for leaders and the YMCA of the USA pledged to revise its youth sport vision based on the Project Play strategies.

The Fred Wells Tennis & Education Center embraces all eight aspects of the Project Play Initiative organization-wide, but most intentionally through the TennisWorks program, which offers free tennis and life skills experiences to under-resourced youth in grades 3-12. Last year, The Fort provided over 7,200 experiences for almost 2,000 youth in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. These experiences included over 400 hours of tennis and physical activity and an additional 200 hours of off-court life skills activities through 16 programs. More than 90 percent of the TennisWorks participants identify as youth of color and 94 percent are eligible for the Federal free and reduced lunch program.

The Fort brings free tennis programs to low-income neighborhoods in Minneapolis and St. Paul through programming right in schools and community gyms, as well as providing transportation to the Fred Wells Tennis and Education Center and other local play opportunities. The Fort is also committed to expanding the free drop-in tennis program on select Friday nights for middle school and high school youth called Fort First Friday. As a result of these moves, The Fort expects to increase participation among elementary school youth by 21 percent and middle school and high school youth by 50 percent.

“In cooperation with our partners, we are addressing the opportunity gap that exist around youth sport participation and physical activity in our community, and we reference the research and resources provided by the Aspen Institute to advance this work in the most impactful way,” Christine Nickels, Assistant Executive Director & Director of Education and Partnerships at The Fort, said. “To receive the Aspen Institute’s recognition as a Project Play Champion is a great honor and validation of the work being done right here in our community to keep kids active and healthy through tennis.”

Other organizations named 2018 Project Play Champions included 500 Festival (Indianapolis), Algonquin Sports for Kids (Buffalo, N.Y.), Appleton (Wisc.) Parks & Recreation Youth Sports, Association of Chief Executives for Sport (ACES), Banner Neighborhood Community Corporation (Baltimore, Md.), Detroit Police Athletic League, DREAM (East Harlem, N.Y.), i9 Sports, The Lindy Infante Foundation (Columbus, Ohio), MVP 360 Leadership Development Programs, Inc. (Philadelphia, Pa.), National Council on Youth Sports (Suwanee, GA), Racquet Up Detroit, Saturday Night Lights (New York City), Seneca Babcock Community Association (Buffalo, N.Y.), Susan Crown Exchange (Chicago), U.S. Soccer Federation (Chicago), UP2US Sports (Chicago), U.S. Youth Soccer (Frisco, Texas), Victory Sports Global Outreach, Inc. (Buffalo, N.Y.).