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Podcast – Mike Powell: Beat the Streets Chicago Uses the Power of Wrestling to Change Lives

Thursday, December 1, 2022
Podcast – Mike Powell: Beat the Streets Chicago Uses the Power of Wrestling to Change Lives

This week, at The One Thing Podcast by The Horton Group, our host, Jason Helfert, talks to our guest, Mike Powell, Executive Director of Beat the Streets Chicago. This nonprofit offers year-round, affordable youth wrestling programs for the community, which teach valuable lessons about building relationships, setting goals and taking care of your physical and mental health. 

Wrestling is a vehicle to grow these kids into leaders, but when it comes to the core, Beat the Streets Chicago is an education program. Coaches work with the kids on various aspects of the sport, including strength, agility, balance, flexibility and control. They also emphasize the value of academics and have tutors facilitating after-school homework help. But soft skills are one of the most important elements that the program focuses on.

“Academics are important, but those social emotions and soft skills cannot be undersold over here,” Powell said. “Someone could be good at arithmetic, but do they know how to set their alarm and wake up in the morning? If you don’t develop grit or executive functioning and you’re not being pushed every year of your life, you’re not ready to take on the world.”

Beat the Streets Chicago has experienced significant growth over the past few years. But the program’s success does not just depend on the hard work that their wrestlers/students put in. A big driver is the quality of leaders and coaches this organization has.

“Coaches are our ‘secret sauce,” Powell said. “We work with high-impact groups, so it’s important to have a coach who wakes up early for the kids, drives them home and becomes involved with their family and personal life. The real magic happens after homework is completed, and deep relationships happen over hours and hours and hours. You never get to the truth unless you have trust and love. For that to happen, you have to have really good people around who talk to [the students] about their lives, emotional hurdles and more.”

Listen to our podcast above for the full interview with Mike Powell to learn more about hiring and retaining strong leaders.


Hello and welcome to The One Thing podcast, brought to you by the Horton Group. The Horton Group specializes in Insurance employee benefits and risk advisory and I’m your host Jason Helfer, be courageous in life. Be courageous in wrestling for today’s podcast. We’re going to be discussing the wriggle. It was the relentless pursuit of one nonprofit agenc in Chicago, choosing rustling to better the lives of all of those who they serve. I’ve had the good fortune of spending a good amount of time with our next guest. I’ve had the pleasure of learning as story in the joy in watching him, turn his passion into something. Truly fantastic. I’m joined today by a friend executive director of Beat the Streets – Chicago, Mike Powell. What’s To my friend much, I appreciate you having me on. Well, we are appreciative that you were here as well. And so Mike, I’ve gotten to know quite a bit about Beat the Streets. You know, you were kind enough to give us a tour and share with us your story and your passion and why you do the things you do and why BTS Chicago is in existence. But for those of the people listening that don’t know, could you do us all a favor and take a few minutes to share a quick background on how the organization came to be? Yeah. So I took over a fledgling organization but Beat the Streets has been around for a long time since the 90s and at one point you know, it’s kind of had its ups and downs but what I got involved 
little over four year about five years ago. Now we were thirty two hundred dollars in the hole about 40 kids and okay, really just nothing going on and so for a long time some good really good men had been involved but they were they were wrestling coaches and not Nonprofit leaders and so you know things fun funding dried up and and opportunities dried up. And as you know, in the city, where we mostly function, there’s a dearth of opportunities right now. There’s a dearth of 
Funding of resources of, you know, kids aren’t leaving their Apartments if, you know, for various radio. So there’s, there’s a whole, or Confluence of things that have created this decay of Youth opportunities in Chicago, particularly, and in my field and rustling. And so, in the last five years, we’ve, we’ve with 18 months off because of covid. We’ve been rebuilding that and bringing more resources in and bringing people really good people in. And we’ve just, we built a real organization. Okay. And so besides some of the, you know, the financial stability, maybe you have, you know, leadership in place that, you know, has a passion for wrestling but also for leading an organization from a business stand, you know, what are some of the biggest changes that you’ve seen take place over the last couple years and you did mention programs and services and you’ve had some that. I’m sure are still in existence today, but you know how I love you how to change The Narrative of the lens, a little bit. And you know what, how is it a little different now than it was maybe a few years ago? Well, I think we just restarted, you know, my thing to the board was do this for free. I work full-time for free and my thing was, I’ll come on, I’ll be the executive director if you give me carte blanche and bringing some people in the really know what they’re doing. And I’m I’m not, I’m not an expert in the nonprofit field, but I know a bunch of people that were really good rank great businesses who are nonprofit, experts. So, I surrounded myself with a bunch of people who, you know, frankly they’re the ones who’ve built the built the organization, but we got from have about 40 kids, who Clear. Not very well, served barely could tie the wrestling shoes to coach and some really great wrestlers, and more importantly, you know, helping these kids become good, men and good women. What’s, that’s interesting. You mentioned that in, you know, about the leadership and bringing people in surrounding yourself with it with a team that supports supports you and your strengths. And I want to, I want to share something, I think it’ll kind of bring all the others. No, Mike. You were featured on ESPN a while back and it’s okay with you. I’d like to share something from that. 60 with the audience that this is pulled from your speech to your team. At the year-end banquet, you said this is what it’s all about for me, and our staff to know the young man of developed a character and her strength and discipline over the years. I love you dearly, and I’m going to miss you. Thank you for everything and Mike were both parents coaches and you of course at a much higher level It’s something I’ve come to learn over the years and working with kids is that passion and love that you shared for your team. And that speech is Paramount in becoming a great leader teacher and mentor. And I believe Mike truly believes that the success of your program will not only depend on the hard work that each wrestler and student puts in, but to the quality of leaders and coaches that your organization hires. And so talking about bringing people in, what can you tell us? Mike about the types of leaders in Slurs. The wrestlers and students are working with ap the streets. You know, who are their backgrounds, and what other passions and where to find them. And, what are they, how are they making it a better place for your kids? You serve. So that’s a really interesting quote that you brought up and it’s a great lead-in to this because one of my big challenges was, how do you scale something you had your? I had my hands on that at all times, right? The guys, I coached with the people that were around we were all on the same page because it was small you know, we control every variable In our kids lives, we planned half their schedules. You know? They’re right, you know, we’re involved their college visits. We knew their family. We went to their funerals, their their, you know, their parties that, you know, their graduation brings the whole thing. So how do you take something like that? And scale that and the answer is you hire great, coaches, and great leaders. And I, we call our coaches, our secret sauce, to the single most important people on our organization, but we open this two million dollar facility next to Midway during covid. You know, something very producing. Its world-class this and beautiful facility. It is a wrestling facility that is like nothing else in the Western Hemisphere as far as I can tell in terms of serving for not be up at stuff. It looks like a college, you know, wrestling facility. But it’s but it’s for nonprofit, kids, geographically and financially accessible to city kids. So I brought in the, you know, the best builder of culture or the best leaders I ever coached with. As the head coach, we brought in his right hand man, who he grew up with, who was his mentor, who coach with us in Oak Park, who we knew was Dynamite. So and then we surrounded them with a couple other. Guys Johnny Vince’s, Mike, Boyden and Alexis Revere but Johnny Vega is there. Now we’ve got some great coaches. We brought in some of my old guys. Some guy weeds old guys, so they really get the cultural piece. Boyd is a great builder of community and culture. That’s why you forget High crotch finishes or how hard your practices or what they, you know, you have to the the trilogy of trust Love and Truth has to be there with the kids and you need somebody who leads that amongst the coaches and everything else. But you know, the the the struggle has been now, how do we do that? When we’re not Controlling every variable in that space or how are we doing it as we scale? So we’re now at University of Chicago were at Taft, High School were at the old Gordon Tech in Avondale where we have these high impact programs. For probably going to open one in Humboldt Park in the next couple months. So we have 26 locations around Chicago but these high-impact groups are really open to the public or recruiting kids and how do you ensure that because wrestling is one thing I called rustling, the single greatest vehicle for self-improvement the world, but it’s got me. Done right? And and that involves a coach that it’s there. For you early, he’s driving you home, he’s involved with your family, he’s involved your personal life because if you’re really going to get a kid to to move the needle for him or herself from the time you find him in sixth grade or seventh grade to time there. You know in 12th grade and are are, you know, I think you saw it on the door but it says you know, this is a safe space but don’t expect to be comfortable. Our Latino is yeah, man, I’m literally thousand times of people, by the way, it’s good. Good, here’s the deal, right? Like Eating a safe space for kids in the city is important. But I don’t know what those kids do at 18. And I don’t know if you haven’t developed grit or soft skills or hard skills or executive functioning or if they’re even been pushed into. Let’s say you’re getting, you know, three days and two bees, and normal classes. Hey why? Nobody’s pushing you into AP classes or honors classes? You know, if you’re not being pushed in every year of your life, are you really ready? Ready to Take On The World at 18? So our Challenger is, you know, we can’t, we know we can do it for the 250 kids that come through the facility, you know? They’ll be more this year, but can we do it for the 150 kids, who come through Avondale and Cara? Are we going to do it for the kids that at Hyde Park? And the answer is we’ve gone after the best coaches we’ve paid and we put them on exclusive contracts. They’re not allowed to coach anywhere else and the reason for that is we don’t want Hired Guns. We were the antithesis of the pay-to-play thing. That’s, that’s frankly. Crushing you sports in America and, you know, this, you know, your kids Real Deal athlete. So the 
Answer is put them, you know, hire the right guys, educate them the right way. Create a culture with amongst us with high expectations and then give them plenty of resources and support execute on it. And so we brought in a young man, I’ll give you an example. We brought in a bunch of guys that used to coat Russell for me but what are the guys probably would have been my number one pick of any kid I’ve ever coached to come back and Coach with us? His name is Alex magical but now we had to take him and his girl out to me and boy don’t take a girl out to Chicago. Cut the Her like we get him to move. I’m recruiting the right guys. What are you recruiting sales have? Yeah, I mean it’s like so we’re like had to have you know we had we had a create a half a job. So he has half a coaching job have a job with Pete, the streets. And he’s he’s very good. But Alex is now our head guy in Avondale. He’s just getting his feet wet. He is humble with Boyd. He’s learning how to coach from boy. He’s part of our coaches education. He and I are checking in. He’s being mentored professionally by Kathy Ann who’s Dynamite, you know, so we’re doing everything we need to do to help. Looks become a transformative coach. The way the coaches at Oak Park were the way Mike. Boyd is at the facility, the way my going to was it in his high school coach of days and then we’re going to do the same and to have, you know, and I’ve got hard. We’re going to do the same in Hyde Park. We are doing it. We’ve got, we’ve hired the right guys. So I feel really good about where we are. And I do think a couple years from now, we’re going to be serving 5,000 kids and we’re going to be serving them better than any youth base for its nonprofit, the city and I’m great with that be so I agree with that. Be, that’s that It’s Debbie phenomenal. I’d be right. We’re over halfway. So I’d be cheering me on and do whatever I can to support and I think everybody will. Most people have played, you know, any organized Sports, whether its individual or team, especially it will go. But team understands, I believe, you know, grit and hard work and culture. You know why? It’s important to a team, right? Yes, you’re on the mat by yourself, right, with an opponent, but you’re part of a team, you know, a larger something larger than yourself. I think people get that from a team aspect but what I’m also intrigued And what intrigues about Beat the Streets is that you do so much more than, you know, wrestling is a vehicle, right? Wrestling is something you’re using to, to mold and grow these men into leaders or boys in the leaders. Can you share more about the other services that you guys provide for these kids like, and why is the culture so important for these kids that are also your wrestling, but they’re also an education program, right? There’s tutors right. How are you helping these kids? In addition, to teaching them how to be part of something bigger than themselves on the mat, right? How to be part of a team and a culture that’s going to help them grow? What else are you doing for these kids that people probably might not think of when they think of Beat the Streets rustling. Yeah. So that’s a great question. Let me, I want to say first, you mentioned boys, we are 20% girls. We are the girls, I’m sorry, my bad. I guess. Three girls. I should know better. The streets is a largest group of female wrestlers in the state, Beat the Streets. National is the largest group in the country, so we’re very proud of where 20% And the national average is 6, but girls wrestling is the fastest growing youth sport. The fastest-growing college sport in America right now. I didn’t know that we’re very proud of that and Monica are who I’ll bring up in just a second. Is second number two in a class of on high schools it is about to get a bunch of academic money to go to a very good school. She’s also an All-State wrestler, I’m sure she’ll be a great college student and athlete, but her family is a great example of kind of what we do. We are intimately involved with her personal life, you know, they just moved. We were involved with that, we their, her, her little sister, Monica, and her brother are all at the facility. They get picked up and brought to the facility where they could do turd, they get a meal and then they have practice. But when when homework is done, and that’s when the real magic happens, right? So hours of contact hours deep relationships ended with with, with develop, over hours and hours and hours, right? That trust loving truth. You don’t ever get to the truth unless you Of trust and love and Fort Russell of to happen. That means you have to have really good people around Monica, Arkell and Michelle all the time who are pressing into them? Talking to them about their lives, about their emotional hurdles about their challenges, about the things that are going on in their lives, how they’re feeling the anxiety about going to college or Arkell going to high school, you know? But we’re doing all of these this stuff with the kids on top of the academic stuff, but the academic stuff is what everybody took the sexy thing, right? Everybody wants to talk about stem, but that’s not really, what moves the needle for a kid. So Don’t care how good our Kel is that are threatening to kick in our arithmetic. If he can’t pack his bag, set his alarm, you know, I mean, turns TV off, you know, weeks a week, you know? He, they’re being fed the right Foods. They’re being talked to about the right lifestyle. They’re getting to see what really successful people live, like all the time, and they’re mixing with these people and it’s so it’s in front of them. And so, and they’re being pushed into doing this stuff. But, but the idea is that there were We’re making sure they’re covered academically, but that’s social emotional piece, right? The soft skills, the executive functioning, it cannot be undersold in here, and that’s what ruin you have your own facility when you have people coming in and you have these contact hours with them outside of academics or wrestling. And that’s when the needle is really moved. So our enrichment piece is really based on serving. The emotional needs of a child particularly coming out of covid, particularly kids from single-parent households, you know, orpurt, you know who have Major struggles in their lives. That’s a huge piece for us. But we also do a lot of, you know, we do college visits so Arkell just filled out his form for the, for the Daniel Murphy Scholarship. Something he would have never done so he’s our best chance arkells. Going to get a private education for free and high school. We’re getting the shell into one of the what’s the Crystal Ray school on the west side of drawing? A blank, whatever. The Cristo Rey is school on the west side but it’s free private schooling from third grade through college. So we’re going to get her in there and we’re Privately to make sure she’s ready to go into third grade and be successful because right now, she’s a little bit behind. 
We’re doing all of this type of stuff. For that, for that mean, a model were involved with planning and getting Monica to her college visits, you know. Should we just I just was texting with Alex Madrigal who’s in charge of this and Monica and the coach from Augustana who we love. They’re building a new facility, it’s gonna be awesome. So, we’re trying to get Monica into a great wrestling and very good academic school or she’ll be, she will get Services similar to What she’s experienced at Beat the Streets. And so, we’re being, you know, we’re being very careful to pick the right program, who really gets Monica’s strengths and her challenges and everything else. Yeah, 
go ahead about making a difference, right? And so yes it’s everything the effort and intentionality that you have behind everything you were doing for each, you know, keep that you serve. I think what you’ve also surely once. I’m too, I could be misquoting this, but if I did just, you can slap you. Next time you see me is like Are your biggest motivators was to get everyone to understand the level? They can get to get? They decided to work as hard as they could for it. Yeah. Yeah. That’s it. So I think that kind of right? But yeah. And then and and you have to have a relationship deep enough so that when Arkell who’s tried to quit rustling three times in the last year, you know, hey dude we will come to your house. We will pull you out of your bed. You’ll be here, dude. You chose the hard path. And you know, when you fall down and you screw up or something bad happens or you lose a match, you should have water. You know, something you struggle, you missed something. And there’s a coach there to pick you up. Kick you in the butt, right? Maybe say a few harsh words to You and then give you a hug and tell you they love you and we’re not going to let you fail and we’re not going to let you slide out. You don’t get to leave now buddy, you’re going to be successful and so Arkel is going to be a new, he’s gonna be phenomenal, High School wrestler but more importantly he’s going to learn what? What love, you know, unconditional love from somebody. He’s not related to feels like it multiply that by, you know 5,000. If you guys get to your goal for every kid. 
So we do after school, safe space practicing your socks. Nobody practicing their sex. For more than once at Beat the Streets because we give away shoes. But but you know we had that safe space stuff but let’s say Jason Halford decides you know. Okay hey I like this score program the intramural program we run through Chicago Public Schools. 
I want to get more involved. Mom take me to the facility or Mom, can you sign me up for summer camp? Okay, and then we get you a little bit more involved, little bit more involved, okay? And then you start moving into like that. What we call Level 2 and level 3 is, our high impact group, but eventually you get to be involved with you, get to get, you know, have the resources, people picking you up, people feed you, people spending a lot of time with you about your your school life, your personal life except etc, etc. 
And that’s what we call. Our high-end pack groups, we have about 300 of those. Kids right now. Okay? And so I think we’re serving them very well but then you would also have opportunities if you don’t mind me going on about about, you know, you asked about the enrichment stuff. We’re created something called the life Champions Academy. Or if it was just about to ask that about that side, literally, just by those coming out of my mouth is like, if you don’t mind. 
So the kids applied, you know, the head of two references had to write an essay for it. We had 60 some applicants we turn some kids down because they frankly said I can’t commit, you have to be there, right? Accountability is what Our core values 
but the it’s a two-hour attend Sunday’s throughout the year. It’s a two-hour Workshop. We bring in very good guest speakers. I’m actually going to do a whole thing on our values which is behind line by gratitude just before Thanksgiving and and so you I think you know that includes executive functioning that includes organization. We just did a thing I goal setting but then we also bring an elite clinician. So for instance, joke alone, a minority 
All American wrestler World medalist who’s now a group very similar to the Peter Street store. If some of our kids is now an assistant at Northwestern just came in and he did a two-hour note, Elite clinic for us. So over four or five hours of of the day, you have two hours of classroom work, we eat lunch together, our mentors are part of that life Champions Academy. So these young people that look like our kids who can relate to them. A lot of just graduated from division. Division, two in division, three wrestling, they’re there. And then they get, also get on the mat with the kids and then they develop relationships at start doing stuff outside. But it seems very robust day that is very filling. You know, it’s filled with things. We’re, we’re pushing the kids and they’re feeling valued, but also like they’re out of their comfort zone a little bit and they’re getting sniped, physically, mentally emotionally. 
So it’s just a great opportunity for our kids to buy into something and, you know, bigger than themselves and really have their Our lives and Rich but we got a bunch of notes up to this last one from parents text messages, from kids social media DMS and it’s working. It’s really Gammas, are happening. So we think we’re going to add a Junior Academy, and the next no got you to serve our Middle School. We have middle school kids involved now, but I think it was, it’ll get big enough. That will, you know, will probably be serving 150 kids by next year’s. Well, I love the love the passion and like I mentioned before, I’ve got to know you quite a bit over the last However long it’s been in there. I think it’s rare to find not rare, but it’s not as common to find some of that believes so strongly in what they’re doing it comes from a place of such positive positive and good meeting and mentioned. You’re doing this out of the goodness and kindness of your heart and a desire to help and make a difference in people’s lives and whether it’s the champion the life Champions Academy or whether it’s any other one of the other three thousand kids or 2,500 kids you’re halfway to 5,000. I love the mission. I love the values. You know, I love the fact that this is a safe place, but don’t expect to be comfortable. I love them. I think that’s a great, you know, model for, for life, in a lot of respects or get outside your comfort zone, Challenger own narrative, look through a different lens, you know, have appreciation for other people and where they’ve come from. And, and so I love what you’re doing there. I love The Rustic component. I was never a wrestler but, you know, I play a couple sports but rustling, I know you said it’s a greatest single sport. I’d I’m not gonna argue with you just out of self-preservation. 
But before we before we kind of sign off your any anything else, anything else you want? The viewing audience to know about BTS, Chicago or BTS National or anything? Well, so, you know, Beat the Streets, Chicago as part of a national group. I think that’s important to mention and I’m on the national part of the executive committee of national board within a very proud of that, a very proud of what we’re doing on the national scene, our executive director, been writers and dynamite guy. I feel very grateful to be part of that group. I’ll say this, I am my heart is full with passion and gratitude for, for our kids, in our community. I’m incredibly grateful to be part of Beat the Streets, wrestling saved my life. I was way weird kid. That’s why I do what I do. And 
for the people out there who are, you know, if you hear only the bad stuff on social and through the news, there is a lot of Hope in Chicago. There are some incredible people and some incredible. Some incredible, really incredible kids. And they’re, and they’re part of a lot of them are part of Beat the Streets. And so I say there’s, you know, for I often feel, you know, you hear the news or, you know, we’ve lost some family members and kids to violence and and it’s easy to get kind of Down and out. But there is hope, there is some great things happening in the city of Chicago. And our kids just need opportunities, man. These are amazing, amazing kids. And so don’t stop investing in Chicago, people, you know, I tell everybody, your we don’t ask for donations, we ask for investment. Now, I’m at, we are partners and we’re here to make Chicago, you know, a little bit better place, one kid at a time, and it’s, it’s totally up to the kids, you know? So we provide that Vehicle. But the kids choose that tough road, I love it. So from from his mouth to our Collective ears. Keep investing in the youth. Keep investing in Chicago. Keep investing in wrestling. Mike, you’re a good friend. I love the passion. I love the partnership. Thank you for spending some time with us here today. So, until next time, everybody that’ll do it and saying, from on behalf of the Horton Group and the one thing podcast, I’m Jason helford, saying thank you.

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