December 1, 2017
In 2012, after school sports had been non-existent in Providence Public middle schools. At a time when public schools across the nation face budget cuts, interscholastic sports were one of the first programs to go. Yet, sports programs can be invaluable during one the most rapid periods of childhood development, as outlets for challenge, creativity, and innovation.
For Brown University student-athlete, Billy Watterson, after-school wrestling had always been more than just a sport––in middle school, it helped him turn around his academic performance and ultimately become a nationally-ranked wrestler recruited by Brown.
It wasn’t until his junior year of college that he realized the potential of wrestling in helping young people realize their potential. While volunteering at a local middle school in Providence, Billy asked the students what they wanted to become––and was deeply saddened by what he heard.
“Across the board, they were saying, ‘I want to work at a gas station, the mall or Game Stop’ and it was just like, what’s going on here? We’re in middle school,” Watterson said. “You should want to be the president, an astronaut, Indiana Jones, anything. If you don’t want to be something at that age, you have no reason to work hard, no reason to try. That drove me nuts more than anything, and that’s what made me want to work in the schools.” (Direct quote from http://www.rimonthly.com/beat-the-streets-providence-brings-wrestling-to-middle-school/)
Here, Billy saw an opportunity. Kids growing up in Providence face daunting odds––nearly 40 percent live in poverty (RI Monthly). Only 22 percent of students participate in afterschool activities, and about 50 percent are unsupervised between the hours of 3-6 pm (RI Monthly). If students are disengaged in middle school––they may not make it to high school graduation.
He saw wrestling as an ideal after-school outlet: it’s an inclusive, affordable sport that favors hard work, regardless of gender, build or weight. Plus, it’s effective building self-confidence––if students can take down their opponents in wrestling, they can build the confidence to take down obstacles they face beyond the mat.
In 2013, while still a full-time student, Billy founded Beat The Streets Providence and launched in two middle schools. Beat the Streets is a national model for bring wrestling to America’s urban centers. Early successes led Billy to expand the program, and in 2015, he was accepted to the SEG Impact Accelerator program and simultaneously received an SEG Hub scholarship. Around this time, Billy onboarded Steven Keith, a Harvard University alumni and fellow wrestler, who would take his role as Managing Director. “It was through the impact accelerator that [Billy] was able to meet people, make connections and follow up with them. These are lasting relationships,” Steven said.
Like Billy, Steven is no stranger to the transformative power of after-school sports. “[growing up], I was a punk… My parents didn’t know what to do with me.” Wrestling changed everything for him. It became a space where he could channel his rambunctious energy and stay out of trouble. While still in middle school, he found a role model through the sport, who inspired him to pursue wrestling at the collegiate level. Steven set his sights on wrestling at Harvard, and never looked back.
Before moving to Providence, Steven worked at Beat The Streets San Francisco. He joined the organization “to have an impact and change a group of youth through the sport of wrestling” and to “revolutionize wrestling for the greater good of the sport.” He saw the post for Beat the Streets Providence and took the leap.
Now in its fifth year, Beat the Streets does more than teach wrestling. They leverage a multitiered approach to help their program participants tackle challenges on the mats, in school, and beyond. Beat the Streets works as a participatory attendance model––in other words, students need to attend school and Beat the Street’s additional academic support sessions after school in order to participate at all. To ensure success, participants are matched with adult mentors and tutors from local colleges who provide 45 minutes of mandatory literacy training before each practice. Finally, through a partnership with Blue Cross Blue Shield RI, Beat the Streets is able to provide meals to food insecure students, along with lessons on health and wellness.
To measure their impact, Beat the Street keeps a pulse on school attendance and grades, practice attendance, social & emotional development and lifestyle choices through a survey, along with physical metrics (e.g. body weight, body fat, push-up count, etc.). Since its founding, Beat the Streets has grown from two schools to 13 in both middle and high schools across Rhode Island, and have improved the lives of more than 700 students.
Beat the Streets Providence doesn’t plan to slow down anytime soon. They just reopened Central High School’s wrestling program that has been dormant for over 13 years, opened a new program at Classical High School, and cite K-5 elementary schools and community recreational centers as major opportunities for growth. In the near future, you may see new programs in Fall River, Pawtucket, and Slater.
Learn more about Beat The Streets Providence by visiting their website, liking them on Facebook and following them on Twitter and on Instagram. If you are interested in getting involved, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Digital Marketing Intern
Cameron is a senior concentrating in Business, Entrepreneurship & Organizations at Brown University and splits his time between Providence, Seattle, and the San Francisco Bay Area. When not pursuing eclectic experiences in the nonprofit and for-profit sectors, he loves running, reading, exploring city vistas, and considers himself a newly-converted podcast junkie.