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Northside Youth Athletic Assocation Teaches Kids To Be 'Students First, Athletes Second'

Elaine Effort
90.5 WESA
Gene Goodwine is the president of the Northside Youth Athletic Assocation. The Pittsburgh organization teaches its athletes the importance of being "a student first, an athlete second."



Nearly 300 boys and girls are enrolled in the Northside Youth Athletic Association's football teams and cheering squads.


Association President Gene Goodwine says the organization teaches kids a lesson he wishes he had learned as a young person—the importance of being a student first, and athlete second.


Goodwine spoke with 90.5 WESA’s Elaine Effort about his organization’s work for our series 90.5 WESA Celebrates: 90 Neighborhoods, 90 Good Stories.


Below are excerpts of their discussion.


Their conversation has been edited for length and clarity.


Goodwine on the importance of athletics growing up and the positive influence of coaches:


I grew up in Northview Heights, which is a housing project about five minutes away from here. Up there...all we had was sports. And it didn't matter where you went in Northview Heights, you seen kids playing sports. That was our outlet. We didn't have much, but we knew we could have a football, basketball or baseball.


We had some powerful adults who headed our teams who came up out of Northview. Once I seen how my coaches actually cared about us — and we stayed the night at our house before games and after games —once I seen that, it's like something that was instilled in me. So when I was of age to do it, it was like second nature to me. 


Goodwine on teaching kids to be a “student first, athlete second”:


I didn't get the good student part. You know, athlete—I'll go somewhere if I'm an athlete. I didn't know that you had to control a certain grade point average, SAT scores and stuff like that. So, we start teaching our youth, our young athletes—boys and girls—you're a student first; you're an athlete second. We start instilling that into their minds at five and six years old. We believe that, by the time they get to high school, their focus will be: "I've got to get my books first, so I can be on the field or court."


We just believe that we have to start showing them that they can get just as many awards for academics as you can for athletics.


Goodwine on how the example set as an adult role model translates into positive impact on young athletes:


When you build relationships with the youth, especially when you build them at such a young age, you become a father figure to them in some instances. In some instances you might be a big brother to them. Those are all people that you don't want to disappoint.


So, when they're on the field, they're playing for their teammates, because that's one of the things that you do preach — you're playing for the guy to the left of you, to the right of you. At the same time, they're playing for their coaches. Some of these kids, they look at these coaches as like their superstar. So,  when they're out there playing and they do mess up, and you do get on them... they don't want that. They don't want to disappoint you. It's pretty easy to motivate them in that instance once you build that relationship with them.


Every so often, you'll get a kid or two who'll come back who went through the program, and they'll say, "Thank you." For us, it's like "this is what we do," but, for them, it's like you might've saved them. There might be like one or two things you might've said, and it changed their whole outlook on things. Those are the things that keep me coming down here.