The Saint Sebastian Sports Project aims to equal the playing field for all LA schools.
Clare Trueblood Gurbach recalls watching her daughter, then an American Martyrs student, play in a volleyball tournament and a noticeable disparity catching her attention. “Our team had shiny new uniforms, knee pads, new shoes and a professional coach,” she says. “One of the teams we played had none of those things. They came without knee pads and played in old PE jerseys with tape on the back as numbers.”
She also noticed the team members were not wearing athletic shoes, and their volunteer coach did not seem to know much about volleyball. “Winning that first game 25-2 was not fun for anyone involved,” she remembers. “It just didn’t feel right.”
It was then that she and her husband fully realized the disproportion in resources between schools like American Martyrs in Manhattan Beach and many other schools all over Los Angeles. They discussed this issue with friends who also shared their passion for youth sports and, together, formed a board.
That first meeting at Uncle Bill’s Pancake House would be the start of the Saint Sebastian Sports Project (SSSP), named appropriately after the patron saint of athletes. The goal: to give schools with less funding for athletics the uniforms, gear and sports education they deserve.
“Our board is a ‘working’ board in every sense,” shares Clare. “The project is such a success because of the hours we all put into the areas where we have personal strengths.”
Those board members include a former advertising executive, a USC professor, a senior partner in a CPA firm and a principal from one of the schools, among others. “We make all major decisions together and work extremely well as a group,” she says.
A little over a year ago, SSSP was approached by an athletic director of one of their sponsoring schools in Watts. “He was desperate to raise money for one of his students, whose single mother was short $1,000 for the upcoming year’s tuition,” Clare says. “The eighth-grader was a strong athlete and good student.”
Although SSSP couldn’t fund the tuition directly as part of its mission, three of the board members donated the funds anonymously. “Keeping this young man in his school for his eighth-grade year proved to be pivotal for his future,” notes Clare. “Last year this student played flag football, basketball and soccer for his school—all made possible because of our funding. He excelled in soccer and was the MVP of this school team at our tournament in May. His grade point average improved, and he received a scholarship to Cathedral High School—where he plans to play soccer.”
Currently the SSSP is in the development stages of an exciting project they plan to roll out in 2017: the Saint Sebastian Sports Project Leadership Academy. Developed with Jamal Adams, the varsity basketball coach and teacher at Loyola High School who also serves on the SSSP advisory board, the academy will nominate one eighth-grade male and female student-athlete from each of the participating 41 schools to attend a day focused on leadership, self-awareness and communication in preparation for the challenging transition to high school.
“In one day we hope to help these kids understand they belong to something bigger,” says Jamal. The daylong curriculum will enlist several important members of the Los Angeles sports community as guest speakers and include one faculty member from each school who can go back with their students to their school communities to share the experiences of the day. In doing so, the SSSP can expand their mission by helping inner city youth apply the lessons learned from sports to the challenges they will meet in high school and beyond … to nurture and empower them to go back to their schools and lead.
“Being a member of a sports team can be transformative,” says Clare. “And that is what we are about. We are trying to change young lives—one game at a time.”