Using How To Tutor Boy Scouts and Pop Warner
team together for academic success

Charlotte, NC, Scout Troop 13 "Tutors Boys" - Helps Them Succeed

For Immediate Release
George Griffin
Derita Athletic Association

This is a story about how two great organizations united to create something truly special for their community.

Back in the fall of2006, then ten-year old Ben Cournoyer was playing Pop Warner football with the Derita Athletic Association of Charlotte, North Carolina. For him, it was a "magical" experience.

Earlier in the year, Ben and his parents noticed a sign at Derita's field announcing a June weekend football camp for $15. When Ben's dad, Ron, talked to locals about the Association's reputation the news was not all that good. The place was described as run down and, to put it mildly, it hosted a questionable crowd - maybe because the Association's membership was 99% African American at the time. It was suggested Ben might be better off playing at more pristine parks over ten miles away.

Ben's parents ignored the comments, knowing that the abilities and character of the coaches were all that mattered in making a choice of where Ben was going to play ball. The June camp offered the perfect opportunity to explore things.

The camp was an incredible bargain. Fifteen dollars bought a month of Saturdays where kids learned football skills for four hours each morning. Additionally, they were fed lunch each week and given a camp tee-shirt.

More importantly, Ben and his family found out what they needed in choosing a football program. The Derita Athletic Association is a non-profit that has been dedicated to serving area children for nearly 60 years. Besides football, it offers basketball and cheerleading. Derita's mission is to give each child and family enrolled in its programs a memorable and enjoyable experience through team sports. It promotes and gives its children a winning attitude through competing in a team experience and strives to improve all players' ability and knowledge of sports while, at the same time, providing them with such skills as self-discipline, leadership, and motivational skills.

Derita President George Griffin has a motto, "Let us teach your child a sport and they will learn lessons that last a lifetime." That June camp was a chance for Ben's family to see if that was true. It was. The coaches provided excellent instruction, were caring, and connected with the players. Mitey Mite Coach Mike Hamilton came to Ben the last day of camp and said," Ben, if you play for me, I promise you we'll throw you a touchdown pass the first play you're on offense. I already have the play set up." Ben and his family were already sold on the program before this happened.

Nearly three months passed and it was time for the season to start. The night before the opening Jamboree, Ben's parents reflected on his summer. They were delighted about the confidence and maturity Ben was now displaying. Nothing had been said to or by Coach Mike about the promise he made to Ben. Ben's dad remarked to his wife, "This has been the best sports experience Ben could ever have had. What would make it unbelievable, put the cherry on top, would be if Coach Mike remembers his promise to Ben."

The next morning, the team arrived in Weddington, North Carolina for the Jamboree. The players were struck with awe at the beauty of the place. There was natural turf that looked better than synthetic. Weddington's Titans emblem was emblazoned at mid-field. The sound system was clearer than any they had heard. As the boys stood there in a trance, they had to be reminded that a field doesn't make a team. Attitude, what's in one's heart, and the bonds among teammates were all that mattered. Still, the guys must have felt out of their league coming from relatively poor facilities.

Time for the first offensive play. The Derita quarterback fades back. A pass is thrown to Ben who runs it twenty-five yards, dives, and gets the nose of the ball over the goal line. The crowd roars. Ben comes off the field in tears. Ben was asked what was the matter and, through a broad smile, he responded, "I've never had anyone cheer like that for me." Ben was hooked. Dad looks over at Coach Mike. Coach nods. He remembered his promise of three months before. Dad was hooked. Even though scores aren't kept at Jamborees, Derita unofficially outscored their four opponents that day a combined 96-0.

That first season was lots of fun. The Mitey Mite team had great success. And Ben's dad would come to discover just how great the coaches really were. He knew they cared but he would see it was not just in spirit, it was in actions as well. Coaches would visit schools, have lunch with their players, and check on their progress with teachers. They made it clear to players that they were approachable to discuss any type of problem they may be facing. The coaches often took money from their own pockets to ensure the kids could afford the Association playing fees, or had mouth guards and other necessary equipment. This was above and beyond the call of duty.

The next year, though, Ben was disappointed to see that two of his friends, the "Bruise Brothers," weren't on the team. It was not until a game late in the season that he noticed them in the stands. Ben talked to them only to find out that they weren't playing due to poor grades in school. One said he was failing everything and the other had a "D" average. Ben was distraught and wanted to help.

Ben and his dad met with Derita President George Griffin. They talked about the situation and concluded Ben, indeed, could help. He was a good student and was respected by his teammates. When asked if he thought he could teach school subjects to the other players Ben thought it was a "no-brainer" and the Derita Peer Tutoring Program was born.

The spring of 2007 was spent planning for the program. It was decided to keep things simple. Tutoring would consist of reading together, doing basic math, help with understanding homework, and discussing study habits. A small flyer announcing the program was distributed at Derita's June summer camp.

In the meantime, tutors needed to be recruited and criteria for becoming one had to be established. A significant part of Pop Warner's mission is learning. In fact, it's exemplified in the organization's official name, "Pop Warner Little Scholars, Inc." It "seeks to provide athletic learning opportunities for children, while emphasizing the importance of academic success ... it strives to inspire youth, regardless of race, creed or national origin to practice the ideals of sportsmanship, scholarship and physical fitness."

"Pop Warner is the only national sports organization in the U.S. that requires its participants to perform adequately in the classroom before permitting them to play." The organization has an All-American Scholar Program which requires a minimum 96% grade point average to be eligible for First and Second-Team All-Americans as well as National Honorable Mention Scholars. It was determined a player needed to meet this same standard to be a peer tutor. Unfortunately, only one other boy in the Derita Athletic Association met this threshold.

At first, a handful of parents showed interest in being involved with the program. When it was time to start, however, only one took advantage of the opportunity. Other parents inquired later in the fall but nothing could be worked out with the other tutor's schedule. And Ben could only handle one student at a time.

The biggest challenges to tackle with the program's first student were reported inability to focus in class along with attitude problems. Ben and the student spent their early sessions getting to know each other and creating trust. Next was to plan for school success.

Tutoring was held two-hours each Sunday afternoon. Four or five subjects were covered in each session. The student's older brother, who also had academic problems, occasionally came to tutoring. Ben would have him read to his brother and help with other instruction. In this way, the older brother became more confident. Ben also set up a reward system. If the student did well, he would collect prizes from a collection Ben had accumulated over the years; things like decks of cards (the student loved Pokemon), mini sports balls, fast-food joint prizes, and more.

There were incredible results. A few months into the tutoring, the student's teacher sent his parents a note card speaking glowingly about the great attitude, effort, and general progress being made in the classroom. Peer tutoring was working!

Ben was kind a sad to say goodbye when school ended that May. His student was going to be playing football elsewhere that fall and Ben knew he probably wouldn't work with him again. He gave the student a study plan for that summer and was thrilled when his student phoned him that fall just to keep in touch.

More parents asked about tutoring and Ben knew he had to expand his base of tutors. He faced the same problem as the previous year. Only one other player was Scholastic All- American eligible. Then a thought - would his fellow Scouts at Boy Scout Troop 13 be willing to help? The Scoutmaster, Dan Schulte, had already assisted the program by allowing Ben to do winter tutoring at the Troop's "Scout House" since the Derita clubhouse was unheated. Peer tutoring would be definitely consistent with Scouting's values of "duty to others." What better way to give a Scout the opportunity to, as BSA's vision states, "become a responsible, participating citizen and leader who is guided by the Scout Oath and Law?"

A notice went out to the Troop and Scouts answered the call. Eight of his fellow Scouts joined the team. A couple of Ben's teammates who had transferred to Derita from another football association were found to be Pop Warner Scholastic eligible and they joined the team too. This resulted in twelve tutors who would work with nine students.

The tutors received training. When the program sought permission to photocopy some tutoring materials from Paradigm Publishing in Boise, Idaho they got a surprise. Paradigm's President, Peter Watt, was so impressed with the concept of the Pop Warner- Boy Scout alliance that he donated a "ton" of materials to the program. These included teaching aids in phonics, reading, and math. The materials have been very useful in conducting initial assessments and in providing ongoing instruction.

Many things had been learned in that first year of tutoring and were helpful in redesigning the program. Now, sessions do not exceed one hour and are limited in focus to one or two subjects.

The results, again, have been great. One student tripled his reading scores. Another had focus and attitude problems identical to the first year's student and the mom heard high praise from the school for the student's new found commitment to learning.

In the meantime, Derita football players in general are having more success in school. The Association's Vice President, Tonia Faison, reports that sixteen players are now Pop Warner Scholastic eligible. A bumper crop from which to recruit future tutors.

George Griffin cannot thank the Boy Scouts enough. "The support Boy Scout Troop 13 is giving us is amazing. Besides the tutoring, a number of Scouts will be doing Eagle projects with us to improve our facilities. They, along with participation from our coaches and players, are renovating our storage space, planning to build a playground, looking to install picnic tables and landscaping. Ben hopes to be at it again soon as his proposed Eagle project will focus on improving communications in a variety of ways. Part of it is hoped to result in a sports announcers' training program for our youth."

Last fall, Ben was presented Derita's President Award for going above and beyond what is expected of a youth member and for promoting positive change to the organization and its families. Coach David Cloud adds, "Ben exemplifies all that we want our student athletes to accomplish. He excels on the football field and in the classroom. Ben feels we helped him tutoring is just one way of him giving something back to our organization."

Ben makes it clear that any success the tutoring program has had has been the result of a lot of hard work from tutors, students, and their parents alike. "I am so grateful to Mr. George (Griffin) and Mr. Dan (Schulte) for all they have done to help this program. Don't mention me unless you mention all of my tutoring teammates too. Brent Babb, Matthew Browning, Andy Fleming, Thomas Hollingsworth, Gus Lilienthal, Devan McDaniel, Peter Rhines, Ben Savage, Bobby Thornton, Kevin Vance, and Rae Washington. All these guys are the reason the program is growing"

If you spoke with each of these tutors, you would find that they are gaining a great deal from their involvement with the program. They have learned more about themselves, both strengths and weaknesses. The process of instructing has caused them to have a fuller understanding of the subjects they teach. Every one of them seems more confident and mature. They show a commitment that the vast majority of kids their age simply don't possess.

Griffin sees the tutoring as a catalyst for bigger and better things for Derita. "I envision our Association one day becoming a true neighborhood center. I would like our sports facilities to be a beautiful magnet that draws our kids into a group of supportive services. More sophisticated educational offerings, programming related to nutrition, life skills, employment, drug abuse, crime, and race relations. We want to be seen as a place that contributes in significant ways to its community. I know this is many years off, but some day ... "

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