Over the past three years, the nonprofit Memphis Youth Athletics (MYA) has worked with nearly 2,000 kids to bring track and field athletics to students in the community. The model is based on Knoxville Youth Athletics, founded by Marty Sonnenfeldt. Nick Dwyer, the president of MYA, saw a need in Memphis and founded it with Sonnenfeldt’s help.
MYA’s mission is simple: “We’re here to fund underprivileged inner city programs. We find coaches and train them to create a positive outlet for students.” Since starting in 2014, they cover schools as far as Fayette County, Tipton County, Arkansas, and Mississippi. The organization primarily focuses on track and field and cross country. Each program has about 5-6 different events. They work with track and field in the spring and cross country in the fall.
“Running teaches many life skills like discipline. The kids’ grades are better and they make better choices,” Dwyer says. He and his team have made an impact on the children of Memphis.
Madison, a girl at St. Patrick’s Catholic School, was struggling athletically, but with the help of MYA she crossed the finish line. “You can identify Madison as an urban kid. She couldn’t finish a mile at first, but we took notice. No matter how long it took, we wanted her to try. The other kids too. They all went to Madison’s side and finished the mile with her.”
Although Dwyer, board member Cameron Thomas, and vice president John Payne all work 9-5 jobs, it hasn’t stopped their momentum to grow MYA. So far, they’ve expanded just from word of mouth alone, and Dwyer even goes into schools to explain the impact they can have on the students. MYA provides everything from funding to the coaches. Almost always, the schools are open to the program.
MYA is looking forward to expanding by adding more locations and creating an education outlet where students can peer tutor one another. Dwyer says, “This organization is so much more than running—it’s diversifying kids. Something like this can change lives. It’s a family.”
MEMPHIS YOUTH ATHLETICS SPRING SCHEDULE
MYA #1 – Saturday 3/18 – Christian Brothers High School
MYA #2 – Saturday 4/1 – Christian Brothers High School
MYA #3 – Saturday 4/15 – Arlington High School
MYA #4 – Saturday 4/29 – Christian Brothers High School
MYA #5 (Championship) – Saturday 5/13 – TBA
The final Meet of Champions will take place in Nashville, and the kids have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet professional athletes.
By Samantha Fong. Photo by Philip Murphy.