Published December 12th, 2022 at 2:25 PM3 minute read
Adrion Roberson has stopped coaching youth football after more than three decades. But even after leaving the sidelines, he remains driven to transform the lives of his players and their parents.
He is doing that through KC United! Youth Sports & Education Initiative (KCU), a nonprofit he co-founded 13 years ago in Kansas City, Kansas, with his wife, Vicky. In many ways, it was a self-help mission for the community.
“We are one of the worst healthiest counties in the state with all kinds of data that supports it,” Roberson said. “And so instead of waiting on (local government), instead of waiting on Topeka, and instead of waiting on folks to parachute in … we gotta save ourselves.”
The organization’s original name, Wyandotte County Youth Football and Cheer, reflected its initial focus. But it would soon rebrand as it broadened its scope.
Initially, the players, cheerleaders and parents were traveling more than 40 miles to Belton, Missouri, to compete. The search for facilities closer to home led to important new partnerships.
A local church provided its field for practices and games, and that led to the start of competitive football.
KCU then branched off into non-sports-related activities, launching its STEM program in the summer of 2016.
Roberson wanted to emphasize education after meeting Mary Ann Flunder, who was running a STEM program for girls. Roberson at that time had no idea what “STEM” was, or that it was an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.
After Roberson visited one of Flunder’s sessions, she told Roberson that his KCU boys should join her STEM program. Flunder died in March 2016, further compelling Roberson to make her wish happen.
KCU hosted a summer STEM Education Camp after the 2015-16 school year. Noting the interest that urban youth hold in athletics and the arts, Roberson thought it a good idea to blend education with the usual activities of KCU.
Attendance grew from 20 students in the first two years to 200 students by 2018. It draws students from around the region.
Roberson is a pastor at Berean Fellowship Church in Kansas City, Kansas, so there was definitely a spiritual element to his desire to start education programming.
“We wanted to make sure for us that they got to see Jesus in action,” he said. “That was our whole thing — that they got to see life in a different perspective.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Roberson continued to run the STEM program at Hy-Vee Arena, knowing the physical and mental toll it was taking on kids. Roberson hired professionals to lead the youth in physical activities after STEM and art sessions to boost and maintain their health. Activities included boxing twice a week.
Participants also received meals and went on field trips every Friday to learn practical STEM knowledge and explore different career paths.
KCU’s fall league supports up to 40 K-8 football teams. A field in Kansas City, Kansas, has been named Adrion Roberson Athletic Field and will be used to host flag football games and cheerleading.
Roberson uses his platform not only to help the student-athletes, but also their parents, who he calls the “gamechangers.”
More than 90% of KCU’s athletes come from single-parent families. Roberson organizes counseling sessions to direct parents to higher ambitions.
“We help them realize that they have a higher calling and higher purpose,” he said. “We want to watch God break the poverty mindset.”
Such rapid growth and positive reaction is driving Roberson to help KC United grow even more. He needs to solidify the core of his organization by building an insightful staff that can carry the program on for years to come.
The transformation of lives occurring right in front of his eyes feeds Roberson’s drive to ensure the program’s longevity. Families are being repaired and children are being properly led by the guidance of KC United.
Aubrey Hughes is a reporter for the Kansas City Call. John McGrath is a video producer for Kansas City PBS.