Dozens of rubber balls in primary colors bounced in every direction as shrieking kids ran through the Orchards Elementary School gym, trying to evade their camp counselors’ throws. On the sidelines, Coach Eric Anderson watched the mayhem and shook his head in disbelief.
“We’re going to play games with kids for a living,” he said. “How cool is that?”
Six months ago, Anderson worked a desk job in marketing for GWI Software in Vancouver. Now, he’s a co-founder of One Team, a before- and after-school program for elementary kids in Evergreen Public Schools. Nine schools will offer One Team’s program starting Thursday.
The dodgeball game Anderson was supervising was the final activity in One Team’s week-long preview camp, held earlier this month to let parents and kids try the program for free. The camp was also a trial run for the program’s 13 newly hired coaches and for its curriculum, a mix between physical education and life lessons — such as stranger danger, healthy eating and sportsmanship — intended to build kids’ confidence and keep them active.
“We’re not turning out pro athletes,” said co-founder James Welch, a Vancouver real estate appraiser and coach. “We’re turning out pro kids.”
Anderson and Welch met while coaching little league for their own kids. They shared the belief that schools weren’t offering enough physical activity and both wanted to devise a program that would fill that need.
“We’re hearing in the news every day about childhood obesity and gym and sports programs being cut,” Anderson said. “As parents, we’re seeing less opportunity for our kids to be active.”
When Anderson was laid off in February, that provided the motivation the partners needed to start their company. Anderson’s wife, Heather Anderson, who holds a master’s degree in education, designed the curriculum. They pooled about $20,000 from friends and family to cover startup costs, such as buying equipment and uniforms and hiring a part-time staff.
They just needed cheap and plentiful space. Leasing a gym in the Vancouver area was too expensive and created logistical issues with transporting kids to and from school. So they pitched the program to the Evergreen and Vancouver school districts. Vancouver said no, but Evergreen was enthusiastic.
One Team will pay the school district a fee to hold the program in school gymnasiums, cafeterias or other empty spaces. The company will spend between $10,000 and $30,000 per year for the partnership, depending on the number of kids who sign up, according to the Evergreen Public Schools.
In return, the district will handle enrollment at a cost of about $5 per student. Schools benefit by keeping children on site and active in educational programs, said Don Aguilera the district’s manager for community education.
One Team must also pay liability insurance for each student and cover background checks for its employees.
The startup costs aren’t cheap, and the business partners know it’s risky to open their business following a recession, when many parents have cut budgets for extracurricular activities. But the district’s new early-release program creates a good opportunity for them to get a foothold.
For the first time this year, Evergreen schools will let elementary students out at 12:30 p.m. or 1:15 p.m. on Wednesdays depending on the school, as a trade-off for providing full-day kindergarten. That means some 11,000 elementary school kids will need earlier after-school child care, Aguilera said.
In the past, many families relied on older siblings to watch their elementary kids on early-release days, Aguilera said. But Evergreen’s new early-out policy doesn’t extend to middle and high school students, he said.
“My guess is we’ll barely touch 5 percent (of the kids) that need this. We just don’t have that capacity,” Aguilera said. “Families may be stuck in a situation to where they don’t have any child care or supervision in the afternoon on those early release Wednesdays.”
Orchards resident Susan O’Shea has already registered her two grandchildren for One Team’s program each Wednesday, at a weekly cost of $10 per child. She volunteers with the school district and often picks the kids up after school, but won’t be able to watch them on early-release days. Both children, students at Orchards Elementary, attended One Team’s preview camp this summer, along with 36 others.
“The kids love it, and it’ll be better than going home to an empty house or day care on early-out days,” O’Shea said.
On regular school days, One Team will charge $8 per student per day before school and $12 after school, similar to other before- and after-school programs. The after-school cost is $10 on early-release Wednesdays.
Anderson calculates that the program needs to reach full enrollment, or about 40 kids per day per school, to become profitable. He hopes to expand enough to employ the company’s part-time coaches full time. Then he wants to expand to other districts and explore related business prospects such as creating a line of kids’ clothing.
Regardless, Anderson said, getting laid off was the best thing to happen to him in years.
“A lot of times business people get caught up in the how,” Anderson said. “Just go!”