Duck Athletes Discover Mentoring Role Has Its Own Rewards
Byline: Ron Bellamy / The Register-Guard
With football practice a few weeks away, a young quarterback at Willamette High School, 15-year-old Spencer Phillips, spent an hour the other day working on the mechanics of his position.
On the warm afternoon, Phillips wasn't alone.
As Phillips went through his steps and throws, he did so with Oregon quarterback Dennis Dixon watching every move, offering suggestions, showing him the right way.
And as one of Phillips' teammates, wide receiver Cody Wirth, worked on his pass-catching skills, he did so with the coaching help of Dixon's roommate, Oregon wide receiver Garren Strong.
In different sports, and other settings, scenes like that played out throughout Eugene over the past week and the past year, as Oregon athletes including Malik Hairston, Aaron Brooks, Kristen Forristall, Nicole Garbin and others have provided coaching and mentoring to boys and girls from elementary school through high school, either one-on-one or in groups of no more than three.
For the Oregon athletes, it's not simply a labor of love. In an innovative new business founded by a graduate of the University of Oregon's Warsaw Sports Marketing Center, it's also a job, paying the athletes $20 per session for their coaching services.
"The money wasn't really a big thing," Strong noted. "It was more just going out and helping. I know when I was younger, if I could have someone go out and help me, I would take the opportunity to do it."
The business - a natural in a community in which Oregon athletes are adored by kids, and in an era in which parents are increasingly willing to invest in private coaching, sports clubs or camps for their children - is called CHAMP, the College Hero Athletic Mentoring Program, and is the inspiration of Billy McKnight, former graduate manager for the UO men's basketball team.
McKnight, who got the idea while working with the basketball program, developed it in a class project while earning his master's degree in business administration.
"It's really helping everybody out," McKnight said. "It's helping the young kids, because they're working with their heroes, and the athletes enjoy it, because it's a way for them to get out in the community and be an influence on more of a personal scale. And it's a job for them, and I can pay them for it."
The rates vary from $40 to $50 for an hourlong private session, and from $30 to $35 for group lessons, depending on the number of lessons purchased.
The program isn't officially endorsed by the university, or affiliated with it, but McKnight had detailed meetings with Bill Clever, the assistant athletic director in charge of compliance, when he established the business last year.
"The NCAA rules involving student-athlete employment and their involvement in private lessons have loosened up considerably over the last several years, and I think those changes allowed this business plan to be permissible," Clever said.
"We had several pieces of correspondence back and forth between us and the Pac-10, making sure we crossed all the t's and dotted all the i's, and Billy's been very good about keeping in touch and asking questions. He's very cognizant that for this to work, not only for him but for the student-athletes and the kids, we need to make sure NCAA rules are met, and he's done a really good job of doing that."
The key restrictions:
By NCAA rules, athletes must be paid the going rate in the community based on their coaching experience. …