2020 Felton Award Winner Able to Continue Offering Programs Despite COVID-19 Challenges

Courage League Sports is an organization in West Des Moines, Iowa, with the mission of increasing positive impacts on youth through the growth and evolution of adaptive and no-cost sports programs for underserved youth. When barriers such as limited family budgets or the need for an adaptive environment keep them from participating, the organization can supplement the cost of playing sports and adapt the play to the skill level for each child.

Like most organizations, Courage League had to rethink the way they had operated pre-pandemic during the mandatory shutdown from March 2020 to June of 2020.

As the recipient of the $20,000 NAILBA Charitable Foundation 2020 Col. William J. Felton Award, the organization was able to successfully pivot and continue to offer its programs—despite all the challenges associated with COVID-19.

“A common theme we heard from our families is that the children need both physical movement and an opportunity to play and be social,” says Courage League Sports co-founder, Melissa Clarke-Wharff. “We did virtual workouts utilizing the Facebook Live platform, which allowed us to engage in real time with many of our participants. In addition, we put together other new online programs and created a YouTube channel. These virtual offerings helped us grow from what was once a local group to now state-wide participation.”

Using funds received from the Felton Award, Courage League Sports also purchased a new van which now serves the organization as their “rolling gym,” allowing them to take their programming on the road. The van travels across Greater Des Moines and central Iowa, providing adapted sports programs for children and adults with special needs and carrying equipment to schools, community centers, senior living centers, and group homes.

Additionally, Courage League Sports were able to purchase special equipment to assist with the adapted programming, including wheelchair soccer guards, large soccer balls, and other items to facilitate the fun.

In addition to the positive momentum with NAILBA Charitable Foundation contributions, Courage League Sports merged with Opportunity on Deck in January 2021 to combine their resources. These two organizations with similar missions are now called Can Play Sports.