“I want to help youth understand that there is a connection between athletics and life,” he said. “It’s about developing the whole person, not just the athlete.”
The former University of Minnesota wide receiver and NFL player has done just that and more with the development of Track Minnesota Elite (TEM) program.
Anderson, himself a track and field all-American as a student at Steel Valley High School (Pennsylvania) during the early 1980s, established the program in 1999. Today it is one of the leading youth track and field programs in the state and country.
According to Anderson, TME — which combines competitive athletics while focusing on nutrition, physical fitness and character — has seen 90 percent of its participants go on to college.
“It’s quite an accomplishment,” he said, “but it’s not about just getting them to college. It’s about making sure they have the tools to succeed and graduate.”
TME, which serves youth ages eight to 18, coincides with a comprehensive health and wellness program known as Youth Determined to Succeed (YDS), also established in 1999.
“The mission of YDS is to provide health, nutrition, fitness and wellness services to children and families,” Anderson emphasized. “It’s not just about track and field. It’s about inspiring youth and families to become healthy and experience success in life.”
For now, however, the focus is on TME, which continues to develop and nurture some of the country’s top track and field performers. In 2014 there were 10 TME graduates who went on to college.
A couple of weeks ago, Anderson took his group to the AAU Nationals at Norfolk State University. When they returned, 10 of his team members had earned all- American honors in different events. But he reemphasized that it’s about more than victories.
“It’s about the lessons learned and the experience,” he said. “Track is different from basketball or football in that you might win an event and an hour later have to compete in another event.”
Anderson graduated from Steel Valley High in 1983. After a stellar career at the U of M, he played in the NFL for the Pittsburg Steelers. His wife, Lisa Anderson, was a track and field star at Minneapolis North and the U of M. His son Isaac enjoyed an outstanding career as a receiver for the University of Wisconsin after a two-sport student athlete career at Blake.
Daughters Taylor and Elise are on track and field teams at the University of Connecticut and Illinois State University respectively.
While his family and countless others have benefited from TME and YDS, Anderson is quick to point out that he didn’t do this by himself. “We have phenomenal coaches,” he said. “You have to have people who care to make it work.”
Before the interview concluded, Anderson reaffirmed the overall mission of TME and YDS. “We want to develop the total person,” he said. “We want to prepare them to succeed in life.”
Mitchell Palmer McDonald welcomes reader responses to email@example.com
Dr. Mitchell Palmer McDonald is a contributing columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.