Write on Sports gets youngsters into sports communications

Kristie Keleshian was a shy middle schooler when she signed up for Write on Sports because her brother had joined.

Keleshian now is an accomplished journalist who credits the program for providing the confidence and impetus for her career.

Write on Sports, now in its 16th year, helps middle school students from underserved communities develop writing skills and build self-confidence through the lens of sports and the tools of journalism. Founded by former Associated Press sports editor Byron Yake, it has served more than 2,000 students in 40 communities with its after-school and summer sessions.

Keleshian had no idea that joining the program would be life changing.

“I was such a shy kid that even raising my hand was progress,” she says. “It was, `OK, fine I will take that application.’ That was hard for me at that point in my life. It was probably the best decision I had ever made, and I am not exaggerating.

“It challenged me. I was not into public speaking. I wanted to do acting but was too scared. I was 12 at that point. As a kid, it got me out of my comfort zone without me knowing it. This really did get me out of what I was used to in terms of writing and public speaking and I wrote a lot about things I didn’t think I would enjoy.

“Having that skill set from middle school put me head and shoulders above others in high school and then when I went to college at Montclair (N.J) State, it was easy going through learning how to edit and everything, and I was able to home in to being comfortable on camera.”

Today, Keleshian is a freelance reporter for WCBS Newsradio 880 in New York, and for News 12 New Jersey — one of dozens of graduates of Write on Sports who now are ensconced in journalism as a profession.

NBC’s Peter King, one of America’s top sports reporters, has been an advocate for the program for years. King, who also worked for Newsday and Sports Illustrated, recognizes the importance of such an initiative.

“So many middle school kids who may not have a lot of educational advantages are particularly disadvantaged in cities and poorer school districts,” King says. “So it’s easy to fall behind. Write on Sports has helped a lot of such kids over the past 15 years — in part because of excellent instruction, in part because lots of kids get a kick out of using sports as a learning tool. It’s fun.

“These programs work. We need these programs now more than ever, particularly with the scourge that COVID-19 has brought to our education system. It’s a tribute to the idea Byron Yake had years ago, and the execution of the instructors who are dedicated to help make kids’ lives better.”

King will host an “Inside the Draft” online fundraiser for the students on Thursday that also will include former Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum and long-time NFL reporter Steve Wyche.

Many English teachers — not to mention professional writers and editors — bemoan the effect social media and texting have had on how the language is used. To some, strong reporting and creative writing is becoming a dying art.

Andy Beutel, a middle school history teacher who serves as Write on Sports’ assistant program director, believes the program’s approach is key to creating interest in and care for the written and spoken word.

“If students are interested in what learning and writing are about, it doesn’t feel like school,” he says. “They really see the potential of writing to learn. I say every summer, one of the best parts is seeing the students work for hours on writing or a visual piece. In doesn’t feel like work to them.

“We have such a great ratio of staff to students,” he adds of the five pupils per instructor, “so we’re able to talk to them for long periods of time. Through conversations we can figure out what they want to write about and help them along the way.”

The way Write on Sports helped Keleshian.

“Writing is definitely a muscle you need to exercise, along with other skills I picked up from Write on Sports,” she says. “I picked that up from that first camp. I think what was one of the most important things is if people don’t enjoy doing it because they don’t have a topic they enjoy writing about. And Write on Sports gave me a chance with a topic that motivated me to write even more as a kid.

“That’s something so priceless to me.”

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