BOSS marking 10 years as specialized school using sports as avenue to achievement
My first experience in sports business came about before there was ever an actual industry, and it was tied to education. It wasn’t quite what you would think. As a teenager growing up in Brooklyn, I used to walk out of school at Erasmus Hall when the Brooklyn Dodgers were home to make some extra money selling programs at Ebbets Field. It wasn’t the education in sports business we may see today, but it was an experience helping plant some kind of seed for the business that became part of my life.
Education programs around sports business are the norm today, with close to 400 schools offering some kind of class or program. Many of those aspiring to be the next NBA or MLB GM as much as legions of kids of yesteryear would have loved to have been a Joe Namath or Mickey Mantle.
However, the school I’ve been proud to have been associated with for the past decade is not really a place where young people get the chance to hone their skills for the ownership or front office. It is a school that I and most city kids of any era could relate to. It is called BOSS, which stands for Business of Sports School, and it is one of over 100 micro-targeted curriculum schools that exist throughout New York City. Located in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood on Manhattan’s West Side, it is much less about grooming the next player agent as it is about using sports as a conduit to teach everything from science and math to finance and accounting. The method is the same as in any high school, but the medium is sports. You don’t have to be a fantasy league guru or even a star athlete to get into BOSS; anyone can apply and the system pulls from a wide swath of students who reflect the diverse population making up New York. It certainly helps having a love of sports, but it’s not required. The result is the creation of a small student body that can fuel their interests as they learn about opportunities they may not have known ever existed.
When I was approached by Dr. Joshua Solomon, the school’s principal for all 10 years BOSS has been in existence, to co-chair the original advisory board with Tony Ponturo, I went in with a little different perspective than most other industry professionals. I sat in the seats those kids were now in, and having spent some time in and around the city the past few years, I knew the jobs these kids could get coming from families where both parents worked might be the same type of blue collar jobs their parents had. Our goal was to expose students to opportunities to have them further along a career, one that could take them, through mentoring programs, into colleges and beyond. That starting place challenged some of the original prospective board members, who were hoping to find more diamonds in the rough than were realistic at the time. But the board prevailed, and over time the successes of BOSS — in terms of graduation rates, literacy and job placement — have been way above the norm of most New York City high schools, something that Josh and his team should be very proud of.
Some of the grand success stories have included Matthew Weiner (UMass 2017), coordinator of disabled services at Madison Square Garden; and Ivan Gomez (St. Bonaventure 2019), American Advertising Federation’s Most Promising Multicultural Student 2019; as well as Emony Robertson (Cornell 2017), now a litigation paralegal at Akin Gump. The ties of the board to the leagues and teams have exposed students to commissioners, athletes and captains of industry who have walked away with a mutually beneficial experience. Speakers like Jeff Henderson, who designed sneakers for Nike and later helped Kanye West create the Yeezy brand, have shown these kids opportunities in areas like graphic design and marketing that they were not aware of and the sports business community has created internships and career days, including one hosted by Morgan Stanley, to help amplify all that goes on in the classroom.
And what would sports business be without a gym? With that in mind, we worked hard to get Adam Silver, Mayor Bill de Blasio, Steph Curry and LeBron James to cut the ribbon and say some words when the school’s new but modest facility was done a few years ago. That interaction, and the possibility created by the intercession of industry professionals at BOSS, has been one of the most gratifying experiences of my career.
Helping create opportunity where it might not have existed before has been amazing. We all look forward to seeing where BOSS will go in its next decade with a new and expanded board now co-chaired by Steve Horowitz and Mark Doman, who put the time into fundraising (the city can only support part of the programs offered), raising the level of the curriculum and mentoring these amazing young minds. The street savviness these kids have, combined with the direction they are being pointed in, is a powerful thing.
As a kid who walked these same streets, rode the subways, and hoped for opportunity someday, I understand where many of them are coming from, and it’s been a great education not just for the kids, but for all who have been around them. The pleasure has been ours.
Harvey Schiller has served as executive director of the USOC, commissioner of the Southeastern Conference, president of Turner Sports and CEO of YankeeNets. He takes the most pride in being a product of the New York City Public Schools, and was recruited to play football at The Citadel by another Brooklynite, pro football hall of famer Al Davis.