The Athletic Factory gets creative to get student-athletes to the next level amid a pandemic

At the Athletic Factory, we are an organization that really focuses on student-athletes. It has been extremely rewarding and gratifying to work with our youth in the community. We are passionate about making a positive impact in their lives and provide hope and structure. We are focused on helping student-athletes by providing an understanding of what the NCAA/NAIA Eligibility Center is, what are the core class requirements, and how to register for the NCAA and/or NAIA Eligibility Center. It’s very important that student-athletes realize that they are “students” first, and an “athlete” second. The Athletic Factory also provides services to help student-athletes be successful in the classroom.

This is done by providing free after school tutoring for student-athletes that require more help. Providing athletic services is another thing we offer. This includes training camps, sports specific training, competitive leagues and tournaments for basketball and specialized, sports specific training for football, basketball, volleyball, and track. With travel basketball, we have six teams — two girls’ teams and four boys’. We select above average to elite athletes from our service area in St. Clair County and the surrounding areas, and our coaches take them out of state (Chicago, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Wisconsin) to compete with other elite organizations.

In March, we were supposed to launch our golf simulator program for high school students. The goal was to provide a way for high school golfers to train during the off-season, but obviously the pandemic happened, so that program was shut down. Another program we were really focused on, prior to the pandemic, was to reopen the James R. Leonard Center (Cleveland Elementary School Gym) all summer to provide a recreational safe haven for the youth in our community, provide a free seven-week SAT/ACT prep course and offer an area for gaming (Xbox One, PS4, etc.).

The James R. Leonard Center was established a long time ago in the 80s but has not been available to the community since the early 2000s. The pandemic obviously put a big damper on our programs, and we were not able to use the James R. Leonard Center. Fortunately, we started thinking outside the box and started offering Zoom tutoring services.

The pandemic has allowed us — no, it has forced us — to be creative for what we can still do to impact the youth in our community. And one of those innovations was how we can still service the student-athletes in our community that still need help with tutoring. If we can't be with them, we can do Zoom sessions with them. Also, we were able to find another location to still proceed with our seven-week SAT prep course.


However, there were a number of protocols we had to put in place. Before students were allowed to enter the building, they had to have their temperature checked, wear a mask, and use hand sanitizer. Upon entering, all desks were six feet apart. When they leave the facility, we have areas wipe down before the next group of students were allowed in. So things like that — just changing our protocol, which I'm sure will be a way of life for a while. You’ve got to plan, and you’ve got to be a little bit more conservative right now.


Since before the pandemic, we’ve been funded by the Community Foundation for Southeastern Michigan, and the Community Foundation St. Clair. We also get some funding from some sponsors. We were able to use it to help us pay for the seven-week SAT prep course and some pandemic cleaning supplies.


Right now, we’re looking at some other needs that we may have in the future. We’re gonna have a board meeting coming up to really discuss what we’re going to focus on next, due to all of the restrictions. There are always going to be programs needed. So, we’re in the process of talking through that right now. It’s unprecedented, and this is a time that we all have to embrace as a new normal.

Cliff Thomason is the founder of The Athletic Factory in Port Huron, which works to support student-athletes. Stay tuned for his next entry in our Nonprofit Journal Project, an initiative inviting nonprofit leaders across Metro Detroit to contribute their thoughts via journal entries on how COVID-19 is impacting the nonprofit sector--and how they are innovating. This series is made possible with the generous support of our partners, the Michigan Nonprofit Association and Co.ACT.

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