A Dream Shared: 2 La Crosse residents form nonprofit to aid sports participation

Something we try to show as often as we can in News 8 Now Sports is the power sports can have beyond the highlights and box scores.
And in the La Crosse area, a mother of three and a UW-La Crosse football player are teaming up to change their sports community for the better.

They’ve had different journeys, but they’ve arrived at the same conclusion: that organized sports can sometimes be too much a financial burden for kids to participate. Katie Leaver has seen the pandemic make that abundantly clear this summer.

“There was seven-on-sevens, there was like a league over in La Crescent,” Leaver, an administrative assistant at Logan, recalled. “Viterbo did a baseball league, and I noticed a lot of kids wanted to play but they weren’t able to afford it. They had to work, they had to pay for driver’s ed or have to pay for insurance or whatever, and COVID has made it that much worse.”

For UW-La Crosse football player Rusty Murphy, it’s a problem he’s seen firsthand since middle school.

“I played a lot of travel baseball,” he said, “so I like Katie’s kids was traveling around the state playing baseball with my friends and kids my age, and I really noticed there was kind of an elitist status in terms of people who can afford to travel, teams that can afford offseason training.

There’s such a huge gap in equity, and we have some great resources with the Boys and Girls club and YMCA in town to help the younger kids, but what about the middle school and high school kids? Can we help them get a pair of shoes, a bus pass to get to practice?”

So the two of them met this season have founded “Rising Athletes,” a local nonprofit to help make sports participation more accessible for those who may not be as fortunate financially.

“I had my initial version of this idea in the late spring, early summer,” Murphy said, “and I was expecting maybe in a year I’d have something filed. Meeting Katie obviously helped, and we’ve put our heads together and figured things out.”

Their major obstacle is providing aid while following WIAA rules. According to WIAA bylaws, organizations cannot pay student-athletes to receive things like equipment. Any payment or equipment from an organization or company must be donated to a school, so donations would apply to a whole team. But there’s opportunity for offseason efforts too.

“We have so many options locally for these kids to play and they’re just not taking advantage of it,” Leaver said. “So maybe sponsoring a full team from Logan, a full team from Central, branching out to the other schools in the MVC for summer ball, 7-on-7, whatever–could be an option for us in the future.”

Leaver and Murphy say the nonprofit is able to accept donations at this time. Checks can be made out to “Rising Athletes” and sent to the address below:

Rising Athletes 3300 Farnam Street La Crosse, WI 54601