In 2016, Rising Stars celebrates 20 years and more than 200 college and professional level players. Here, founder Paul Savramis discusses Rising Stars’ growth, impact, and strategy.
Q: What originally gave you the idea for Rising Stars?
Paul Savramis: We initially offered summer basketball camps for kids wanting to improve their skills. What we accomplished with those camps, however, was to dig deeper than the X’s and O’s found on basketball courts. Our staff began to get to know each player, their dreams, goals, and what was holding them back, not just in the game but in life. These were kids who needed a hand up not on the court but for what they found off it. It sparked a passion for me and my coach’s to strive for a greater impact.
Q: Why is basketball such a powerful tool to reach kids?
Paul Savramis: It’s not just basketball. It’s the concept of PLAY and that almost all Learning in life occurs early in life through play. Anytime you can get kids interested, they become engaged and will take the lessons learned during “fun” time back to reality. A lot of our student athletes come from impoverished areas so basketball became our vehicle to reach them. The power of teams and being on a team helps build bridges for them connect to their school, their families, and their community. Hopefully, together and as a part of our team they are empowered and better able to “rise” above the obstacles they face on and off the court.
Q: But couldn’t you teach the same things in a classroom?
Paul Savramis: No, not really. The skills learned playing basketball we use to develop character and values can’t be re-created sitting at a desk. These are very different then the old read write and arithmetic concepts found within four walls of the classroom or textbooks. Our “Play, Learn, Grow” theme is central to the success of Rising Stars. It’s pretty simple really, but something that eluded me for years. Learning truly begins very early in life and is centered around Play. As I said earlier, if you make a child’s day more fun, he or she learns more. It ceases to be work. As the child learns, she/he grows and becomes a productive member of the local community, with all the skills needed to learn how to make positive life choices.
Q: When was Rising Stars birthed?
Paul Savramis: We launched in 1996; it seems like forever ago, but those first few after-school programs have blossomed into an organization that I am proud to say directly impacts hundreds of students each year.
Q: Does Rising Stars offer programs for both boys and girls?
Paul Savramis: We do! Our girls program is currently comprised of 180 of the most skillful and dedicated young women I have ever seen. Our girls director Bethany LeSueur is a god-send. She’s a Long Island legend that attracted all of the best girls coaches to our programs and that keeps growing and improving every year.
Q: What are some of the opportunities Rising Stars’ students have access to?
Paul Savramis: First, we stress education. If our kids don’t have access to quality schooling, we strive for ways to get them enrolled in a private program. We have 15 private schools we partner with and hope to add to that number with time. We also have many volunteer opportunities throughout the year and often invite special guests, such as Jay Williams, to share their inspirational stories with the kids.