DENVER — Since 2005, Athletics and Beyond, a nonprofit organization located in Denver's Montebello neighborhood, has helped student-athletes succeed on the field and in careers outside of athletics.
“Around the time we created the organization, no one was talking to our kids about being a sports attorney, no one was talking about who’s the apparel designer, no one was talking to them about who’s the engineer who runs the board at the games,” said Narcy Jackson, Athletics and Beyond executive director.
Jackson said the creators of the nonprofit wanted to make sure kids from underrepresented communities understood that becoming an athlete wasn’t the only option for achieving professional success.
“We created Athletics and Beyond for those kids that either max out by the time they're in college or max out in little league,” Jackson said. “There’s four pillars to Athletics and Beyond: the athletic component is the hook. The academic component is the part where you have to have your grades at a certain GPA in order to be eligible to go to an NCAA school, especially Division I. Then there’s the career exploration — "What are you going to do when you’re finished? When you tap out and now you’re in the next phase?""
"The fourth pillar is social-emotional and mental health support," Jackson continued.
Jackson said at first, the organization was a hard sell for parents and kids who were only familiar with programs that solely focused on athletic ability.
“We’re not sexy for a lot of the kids," he said. "Our competitive market is very simple. They give you the flashy uniforms, and all you do is either athletic training or you do seven-on-seven."
But Jackson said his student-athletes are starting to show more interest in creating career plans outside of becoming an athlete following a scary Monday Night Football game in which Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapsed after making a defensive play.
“Our athletes have a lot of concern. This is forcing the issue of, "What are my options?"” Jackson said. “Now they’re thinking about their health, their overall health, and what am I going to do if something happens to me.”
Emmanuel Pregnon, University of Wyoming right guard and Athletics and Beyond athlete, said he loves playing football.
"Because ever since I can remember, when I was a child, it relieves stress,” Pregnon said. “I most definitely think athletes should consider a different option other than, you know, the sport they're playing... I wouldn't like to discourage guys, but the reality is you have to invest time into different things, into different hobbies.”
Legacy High School tight end Omari Bursey said he hopes his athletic career leads him to a college degree.
“I plan to study physics or sports psychology in college,” he said. “Athletics and Beyond, it's a great opportunity, you know. It allows me to come in here, workout, but then also get the resources for my LSAT, ACT, you know, test prep, be able to succeed in the classroom as well.”
Metropolitan State University of Denver track athlete Maya Ries, an office assistant with Athletics and Beyond, is a senior and making plans for a career outside of athletics.
"I definitely want to work in graphic design when I graduate and design logos and design websites," Ries said.
Jackson said he wants all of his athletes to know they are more than their athletic abilities.