The New Balance Foundation has donated $100,000 to The National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame (NFF) to support four New England high schools enrolled in Play It Smart program. The mentoring program has worked to change the lives of thousands of at-risk student- athletes during the past nine years.

The $100,000 commitment from the Boston-based Foundation will specifically support John D. O’Bryant H.S. in Roxbury, Mass.; Somerville H.S. in Somerville, Mass.; Portland H.S. in Portland, Maine; and Madison Park Technical H.S. in Roxbury, Mass.

“New Balance is proud to be a long-time supporter of youth athletics programs that have additional learning elements to them, from academics to sportsmanship or life skills,” says Jim Davis, New Balance Chairman & CEO. “Play It Smart hits the three critical areas of a young person’s development: academics, athletics and community involvement.”

Launched in 1998, more than 20,000 student-athletes in 85 cities have benefited from Play It Smart over the past nine years. The program supports “academic” coaches as they work in underserved areas to turn high school football teams into learning teams by taking the transferable life skills learned on the field and applying them in the classroom and the community throughout the entire school year.

“The New Balance Foundation and New Balance are known for their contributions that support the development of the youth scholar athlete,” said NFF President Steve Hatchell. “We are proud that they recognize the positive impact that Play It Smart has in New England and throughout the country.”

With major financial support from the NFL and the NFL Players Association, as well as a broad-coalition of corporations, communities, individuals and organizations, the Play It Smart program has quickly become one of the most comprehensive and effective youth development programs in the country, achieving dramatic results that include:
* 98% of participants graduating high school, compared to a national rate of 86%;
* 80% of seniors enrolling in college compared to 64% of their peers;
* Participants taking the SAT or ACT at twice the rate of their peers;
* Participants completing more than 84,000 hours of community service annually;
* Rosters increasing by 35% for teams with fewer than 40 players; and
* 200-plus graduates earning places among the elite collegiate ranks during the 2007 season on Football Bowl Subdivision rosters. Prominent alumni include Penn State’s Jay Alford, LSU’s Craig Davis, Ohio State’s Ted Ginn, Jr., USC’s Dwayne Jarrett, Ohio State’s Antonio Pittman, Florida’s Ray McDonald, Rutgers’ Ray Rice, and Miami’s Leon Williams, who played for the NFL’s Cleveland Browns during the 2006 season.

Play It Smart builds on the positive peer influences of team sports and a participant’s interest in football. The program’s academic coaches are trained at the NFF Center for Youth Development through Sport at Springfield College (Mass.) in a set of guiding principles and a variety of tactics, which are designed to make academic achievement the norm. Working closely with the direct support of a team’s head coach and others in the community, Academic Coaches hold one-on-one goal setting meetings, career and life skills sessions, mandatory study halls, SAT/ACT prep classes, community service projects and other team building events.

The National Advisory Board, headed by Ronnie Lott who played at USC (1977-80) and earned induction into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2002 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2000, is comprised of leaders in education, business and community affairs. The NFF recently established the board to act as the guiding force behind a $5 million fundraising drive for the Play It Smart program and its expansion.