08/07/2014 02:13 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Sports 'Shark Tank' for Kids


Four Hawks prepare to jump in the Shark Tank

A few months ago I saw Kareem Abdul Jabbar interviewed and he spoke with great pride about being a scholar-athlete in his youth. Sadly, today scholar and athlete are not used enough in the same sentence, but the Riverside Hawks are an organization intent on changing those circumstances.

Operated out of the Riverside Church near Columbia University, the Hawks are a year-round academic/athletic organization with a simple mission statement: To promote athletic development, educational advancement, strength of character and successful lives for underserved youth.

Mark Jerome, the Hawks Executive Director said that "more than 65 NBA players (Kenny Smith, Chris Mullin, and Rod Strickland among them) as well as countless division one college players have been through the program." The Hawks also run a summer basketball camp and this year they decided to add an academic program and curriculum, modeled after shows like The Apprentice and Shark Tank, offering campers an opportunity to compete with their brains as well as their bodies.

Alexandra Harvey is the camp director and attended Duke University (where she was a Cameron Crazy) so she has a passion for basketball. "We're teaching leadership as it applies to the business world by assigning the kids projects," said Harvey. He continued:

The kids play basketball but the overall message is that you have to have interests and skills outside of sports that will stay with you for the rest of your life. Two and a half weeks ago these kids didn't know what a business plan was, and suddenly they were creating one, which is incredibly impressive for students in the seventh and eighth grade.

The first week of camp the kids learn about business plans -- what they are and how to actually make one -- from speakers that included investment guru Anthony Scaramucci, who helped guide the campers in the creation of small business models and fundraising plans. The second week campers were put into groups and came up with business plans which they ultimately presented to judges that included Kathy Glynn and Harold Ford, Jr. All of the plans entered by the campers were clever and the kids obviously had fun participating in the projects. One of the winning entries (see photo) included a dinner and tour of the Riverside Church, which raised approximately $800.

The campers spent a good deal of time focusing on their public speaking abilities by making presentations and articulating their ideas in front of large groups, so besides honing already established basketball talents, they learned important new skills which will serve them well in the future.

Justin Rosso said something rare about academics for an 11-year-old preparing to enter seventh grade: "It was a lot of fun!"


Campers sell a dinner and tour of the Riverside Church)