Aspen Institute Announces National Search to Reimagine School Sports in America

June 23, 2020

Eight high schools will each win $20,000; project launches June 24 with online event

Contact: Jon Purves
Senior Media Relations Manager
The Aspen Institute
[email protected]

Jon Solomon
Editorial Director, Sports & Society Program
The Aspen Institute
[email protected]


Washington, DC, June 23, 2020
–The Aspen Institute’s Sports & Society Program today announced the launch of a new phase of the Project Play initiative, “Reimagining School Sports in America,” that aims to fundamentally reimagine the high school sport experience for students. The multiyear initiative launches with a national search to find the most exemplary high schools that supply quality sports opportunities for the broadest reach of the student population.

The eight competition winners will each receive $20,000, as well as national attention from the Aspen Institute’s Project Play initiative in partnership with adidas/Reebok, The DICK’S Sporting Goods Foundation and Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS). High schools will be chosen based on innovative models, best practices and ideas that grow sports participation and physical activity. To recognize that best models can vary by the enrollment size, geography and socioeconomics of schools, each of the winners will be different high school types, including urban, suburban, and rural public high schools of varying sizes, as well as charter and private schools.

The need to identify strategies and models that engage more students has only grown this year, as schools respond to challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic and calls for greater equity in society’s leading institutions. Superintendents, principals, athletic directors, physical education teachers and coaches will need to innovate as they re-introduce programs, with heightened priority given to access, emotional health, and human development.

High schools can learn more about the process and apply here.

The “Remagining School Sports in America” initiative will be discussed in-depth during an online event on June 24 from 12:00-1:00 pm ET. Leading high school sports experts and students will explore the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead after the COVID-19 pandemic to build school sports models tailored to the needs and interests of students and society in the 21st century. Press are invited to register here. Speakers include:

  • Taylor Twellman, ESPN lead soccer analyst
  • Karissa Niehoff, National Federation of State High School Associations executive director
  • Natalie Randolph, Sidwell Friends School director of equity, justice & community and Title IX coordinator; former high school head football coach
  • Jimmy Lynch, The School District of Philadelphia executive director of athletics
  • Mya Burken, Rolla (Missouri) High School three-sport athlete
  • Alex Garcia-DeLaCruz, STRIVE Prep Smart (Denver, Colorado) two-sport athlete

Since 2013, the Aspen Institute’s Project Play initiative has largely focused on the base of the sport system – community programs that engage, and often quickly lose, children ages 12 and under. “Reimagining School Sports in America” recognizes the role that high schools can play in providing quality sports and physical activity experiences for more students.

Research in recent years affirms the cognitive, academic, physical and mental health benefits of playing sports and regular exercise. Yet due to budgets and other pressures, only 39% of students participate, with rates the lowest in urban (32%), high-poverty (27%) and charter (19%) schools, according to a 2017 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Last year, the National Federation of State High School Athletic Associations reported that high school sports participation declined for the first time in 30 years.

“We hope the project lays the groundwork to build and scale models that meet the needs of youth and society in the 21st century, while offering ideas for administrators to navigate the near-term challenges,” wrote Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program Executive Director Tom Farrey in an article accompanying the announcement.

Throughout the multiyear initiative, Project Play will identify the innovations, partnerships and budget models that enable success. Findings will be published in a series of reports – both by school type and cross-cutting strategies for schools of all type – that can inspire adoption by high schools around the country.

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About Project Play
An initiative of the Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program, Project Play develops, applies and shares knowledge that helps stakeholders build healthy communities through sports. For more information, visit ProjectPlay.us. Learn about “Reimagining School Sports in America” at as.pn/schoolsports.

The Aspen Institute is a global nonprofit organization committed to realizing a free, just, and equitable society. Founded in 1949, the Institute drives change through dialogue, leadership, and action to help solve the most important challenges facing the United States and the world. Headquartered in Washington, DC, the Institute has a campus in Aspen, Colorado, and an international network of partners. For more information, visit www.aspeninstitute.org

During the COVID-19 crisis, the Aspen Institute is adapting to address the challenges of the pandemic. Learn more about some of the solutions we’re proposing, the actions we’re taking, and the changemakers we’re supporting.

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