On the heels of ESPN’s one-hour special “RISE UP: New Orleans,” which aired in Sept. 2010 and focused on renovating the athletic facilities in a high school in New Orleans, the network is launching a RISE UP four-episode series this fall, premiering Tuesday, Sept. 13. Each episode will focus on upgrading athletic facilities at a school burdened with limited resources and budget cuts. Its goal was to give students and teachers the training and tools to become better athletes and to showcase the “transformational power of sports in the lives of young people,” says Keith Clinkscales, SVP, content development and enterprises for ESPN, at the ESPN panel at the Television Critics Association Press Tour in LA.
According to Joan Lynch, VP of content development for ESPN, the loss of athletic departments is pervasive in our public school system. “In these economic times, every state has at least one school that’s shutting down its athletic department.” Which made choosing which schools to feature a challenge. Schools reached out to the network through its website, but the choice came down to being able to give each school what they need—and that varies from community to community. “We tried to pick schools in different areas of the country,” says Lynch. “In Ohio, the town declared an economic emergency and had to cut off street lights to pay the bills. In Boston it was a safety issue.”
Chris Spielman, "RISE UP" host and ESPN college football analyst, says that improving the facilities can lead to improving lives. “There’s a personal investment. We’re hoping that we’re passing on more than just new weights—we hope there’s a sense of ownership. We talk to them about having a direct impact on kids coming up.” In addition, Spielman considers it the network’s responsibility to make a positive difference through sports. “Athletics taught me about who I am. It’s a vehicle for the education of life skills.”
LA Lakers star Shannon Brown sat on the panel in support of the upcoming series. His Shannon Brown Basketball Camp, in its third year, “promotes mental and physical wellness,” he says. “I’m also doing a renovation at my old high school. I feel it’s only right that I give back, and keep the tradition going. I think [RISE UP] is a great thing that they’re doing, because I can relate.”
While some of the improvements to schools are larger, material things like construction projects, says "RISE UP" host Deanne Bell, “ sometimes it’s small things like equipment that makes a difference.” And more than a renovation, it’s a spotlight on these communities and everyone who helped to make it happen. “We believe this is a celebration of what these people are doing, with very little.”
“Not everyone is going to be a professional athlete,” says Shannon. “But it affects the mental and physical health of these kids.”