April 2023 Community Program: National Youth Sports Program

For each summer since 1970, hundreds of Cleveland youth descend on the campus of Case Western Reserve University to participate in the National Youth Sports Program (NYSP), a five-week summer experience for children ages 8-16 that combines sports activities, educational enrichment, nutrition and health services. Nearly all of the program participants come from the greater Cleveland area.

NYSP director Dennis Harris says that the program's name is a bit of a misnomer. “It’s so much more than sports. This is holistic and full service. We’re concerned about the overall wellness of the child,” he says. “NYSP is about exposure. For most of these program participants, it’s the first time they’ve been on a college campus or inside a lecture hall or a chemistry lab. Just being on the campus exposes them to something different and helps them see what they can be.”

Originally founded as a federal program in 1968 in response to the riots that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., NYSP aimed to provide opportunities for young people in urban areas. The program began as a partnership between the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the United States Department of Health and Human Services, the Office of Community Services and others. 

At its peak, the program was hosted by more than 200 colleges and universities across the country. But in 2006, Congress eliminated all funding for NYSP and since then, nearly all NYSP programs across the country have been shuttered, with the exception of NYSP at the University of Toledo and at Case Western Reserve. The program continues at CWRU, thanks to funding from the City of Cleveland, various community stakeholders and from a generous private group of NYSP supporters known as the Friends of NYSP. 

The 2023 NYSP program will run Monday, June 12 through Friday, July 14. Camp starts each day at 8 a.m. with a light breakfast, followed by a “homeroom” time. Then beginning at 8:30 a.m., program participants rotate between sessions of sports activities, among them swimming, basketball, track and field, soccer, volleyball and yoga. The children also have enrichment activities in reading and writing, math and science, civics, nutrition and personal health, among others. Harris arranges for visits from guest speakers who are musicians, artists and scientists—often from the faculty at the university. The program ends each day at 1:30 p.m. following a full hour for lunch. “We know that in most school districts, these students have about 20 minutes to eat lunch. We want to give them the time to sit down and eat and to socialize,” Harris explains.

Families interested in participating in NYSP must complete an application online. The cost of the camp is $85/child for Cleveland residents and $175/child for non-residents. Also, all program participants receive a free health screening from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine fourth-year students prior to the start of camp. 

Harris, who has been with the program since 1988, says that what brings him the most joy is to reconnect with NYSP alumni. NYSP alumni and counselors have gone on to careers as medical professionals, leaders in education, professional athletes, world-record holders, and city prosecutors. “My passion for this program is about helping children and getting the next generation ready,” says Harris. “I look at the talent that is inside so many of these children. Our job is to give them hope and to show them what they can do.”

Learn more about NYSP 2023.