Students in the Chattanooga area will no longer have to decide between sports or schoolwork if the venture launched by entrepreneurs Bob Chester and Tim Bone takes off.
Chattanooga Sports Academy, to be launched officially on Saturday, will rely on volunteers to help tutor and train children while charging less than comparable gyms, Bone said.
"It's very economical; we have to keep things affordable," Bone said.
The men said they have poured more than $400,000 of their life savings into renovating a 16,000-square- foot warehouse on Vance Road, and now they're ready for prime time.
The cavernous building off Lee Highway includes a basketball court, softball practice net, weight/aerobic area and indoor practice field. The study area, which is separated from the play area by a wall, contains desks and computers where up to 15 students can study before heading out to shoot a few hoops.
"The real goal is to teach these kids how to become student athletes," Chester said.
He's been teaching athletics for 35 years in various forms, he said, and is now ready to teach the fundamentals of on- and off-field leadership to a new generation.
Through the planned monitoring program for gifted competitors, Chester said he will emphasize the power of perseverance, especially in the face of defeat, injury or other setbacks.
Indeed, CSA's two employees are persevering through obtaining a nonprofit status, Chester joked, though the goal is to sell enough memberships to keep the courts occupied and study tables filled as soon as possible.
Gladys Winston, a volunteer tutor who also teaches her own grandchildren at home, is excited to be involved in a project that teaches the importance of achievement in sports and academics.
The tutoring program is available to any of the children who are members, as well as their siblings, she said.
"When they bring us their needs, we just work with them from that point," she said. "A lot of them have basic needs and a lot of them have needs that are beyond basic, but we want to address whatever those needs are."
Tonya Turman, mom of four children who signed up for CSA, said she uses the Academy to supplement what she teaches at home with additional sports and academic challenges.
"I wanted them to be able to go and actually get with someone other than me all the time," she said.
The academy also provides areas for parents to spend time while their children are engaged in activities, and hosts classes for adults who want to get into shape alongside their offspring, Turman said.
Her son, Stephen, likes the sports, but doesn't mind the schoolwork either, he said.
He likes the variety of activities available to him, especially the basketball.
"It's fun, I enjoy it," Stephen said. "I like to go there and have fun and learn."
And that's the point of the program, Chester said.
"We start with the ones with desire, and we help them develop the ability," he said. "We think the community will grab onto it when they hear about it."
A family membership at a comparable organization could cost over $900, while a family membership at CSA costs closer to $720 per year, he said.
While the lower pricing won't make the founders millionaires, Chester said, it will hopefully "give back to the community that gave so much to us."