EV park partners

Bell Bank Park in Mesa has an array of facilities that will enable Gilbert Public School athletes train and yet stay on top of their academic work. (Bell Bank Park)

Gilbert Public Schools wants to boost a program that helps student athletes stay on top of their learning by partnering with North America’s largest sports venue – the 320-acre Bell Bank Park in Mesa.

The Governing Board has approved a contract with Legacy Sports USA, which opened the sports facility in January near Ellsworth and Pecos roads. The cost to the district will be transporting students to the park from school.

The partnership is expected to help the district’s Performance Academy, which for the past four years operated out of Mesquite Elementary, offering a flexible school schedule for 4th to 8th graders, where they learn in the morning and are transported by the district to multiple select training locations for the afternoon.

Recognizing a need for an alternative school schedule for students who were performing in athletics and other elite sports competitions, the district kicked off the program in 2018 with over 30 students. The program includes performing-arts students.

“Lacking a partnership with any gym or studio was a hindrance in growing the program,” said Jason Martin, Elementary Education executive director.

“Going to these gyms and studios costs quite a bit of money for the families. Sometimes when you have that official partnership you can use the tax-credit funds for families to supplement or offset that cost to those gyms or studios, which can help students or families quite financially.

“That tax credit program, we think, will be key to the growth of the Performance Academy.”

Legacy also will be providing academic support for the students.

“Students within the framework of their time at Legacy…would have a set period of time that would be for academics,” said Jared Ryan, Strategic Initiatives executive director. “It’s an interesting combination of employees that are running and looking after Legacy Sports USA. Some have backgrounds in athletics, obviously, but many others in K-12 education. Two of their strategic leaders that have been assigned to this project from their campus are from a prior experience in K-12 education and will be looking after students and their academic support needs on campus as part of their schedule.”

He said Legacy will have a venue that each of those students will go to for a period between 45 minutes and an hour, depending on the age of the student, for academic support.

Martin told the board that the district will discontinue transporting students to their various venues after the upcoming school year but will continue to provide free transport to Bell Bank Park.

After the one year, parents who want to continue sending their students to other venues will need to find their own transportation, he said.

“Middle of the day there’s not a lot of transportation needs but as we’ve learned over the last year, the challenges with transportation have grown exponentially as well as to some of these gyms and studios are quite far out of our district boundaries,” Martin explained.

The district also in July will move the 7th and 8th graders in the program to South Valley Junior High so that “they’ll be able to have a junior-high experience during that day with their peers instead of being with probably 10 to 15 students at an elementary school,” Martin said.

“And then, they’ll be able to have all of those course offerings,” he said. “They’ll be able to go through a schedule …that is much more typical of a junior high student.”

Marcie Taylor, Secondary Schools executive director, said the junior high students will actually be attending classes with their peers instead of using an online platform.

The blended learning, which has been quite successful, will continue for grades 4-6 at Mesquite with support available daily and opportunities to catch up academically after competitions, Martin said.

“At Mesquite Elementary you’ve got the academics, the electives that students typically go to in elementary – art, music as well as PE, extracurricular activities and clubs,” he said. “And they continue to also go on many of the field trips that the K-6 students enjoy at the school, as well.”

Legacy was one of 142 vendors bidding for the contract and was chosen by an evaluation committee.

One of the deciding factors was the hourly cost for a student athlete, which came in lower than other bids, according to Ryan. He noted that students will need to pay a $50 extracurricular fee quarterly to help cover the cost of transportation.

He added that Legacy has a foundation created specifically to raise funds for a variety of purposes, which includes financial help for students unable to afford the facility.

The multi-year contract begins July 1 and may be extended with an option to renew for four additional years.

“Legacy Sports offers over 15 different athletic competitive environments for students to be trained in everything from speed and agility and baseball, basketball, softball, cheer, gymnastics, dance – the gamut of sports that a majority of our students are affiliated with,” Ryan said.

“We’re optimistic that this facility would be able to provide something to our students in terms of choice and option and access that we haven’t been able to previously provide.”

Staff also cited Legacy’s desire to work with GPS on a strategic marketing and advertising campaign.

“It’s quite exceptional what they’ve offered,” said Dawn Antestenis, communications and marketing director.

She said alongside traditional email blasts to over 120,000 families living within the GPS community who are already interested in athletics, the company will use its website and post banners and signs throughout its facility.

“They specifically reference in the soccer area, baseball, pickleball and also indoor banners within their three generous field houses that they have,” Antestenis said. “And then also they actually have digital signage. That’s something that’s really notable when you arrive, including 55 LED boards throughout the facility and 54 TVs.

“So these are all things that have been offered, which we think would be significant.”

Superintendent Shane McCord said if the program can be expanded to other campuses, “we will without a doubt.”

Board members liked what they heard.

“I really appreciate the thoughtfulness and the innovation that this brings forward,” board member Jill Humpherys said. “When Performance Academy began it was a unique and different thing but now this is really something very different that maybe families will be interested in.”