HOW A FOOTBALL GAME CAN LEVERAGE A MILLION DOLLARS OF SUPPORT FOR BAY AREA TEACHERS

This January, the College Football Playoff Foundation will join with the Bay Area Host Committee to benefit educators across the region – including one stunned third grade class

Third graders love surprises. Still, Jennifer Ericson had no clue this one was coming for her students.

She and her pupils from Katherine Hughes Elementary in Santa Clara were enjoying a rollout event for College Football Playoff (CFP) at the Tech Museum in downtown San Jose. They were caught up in the music and hoopla.

Suddenly, a speaker on the stage announced that Ericson and her school would be receiving a $10,000 grant from the Extra Yard For Teachers (EYFT) Program, and it could be spent any way she and her fellow faculty members wished.

“It was totally a shock,” Ericson says. “We knew we had been invited for an Extra Yard event as well as a workshop…but we were definitely not expecting that.”

When the College Football Playoff awarded the 2019 national championship game to the Bay Area, the decision didn’t just mean that the game would be played at Levi’s® Stadium. It also meant that educators and schools—and third graders—across the entire region would receive many, many totally nice surprises.  

EYFT has been the philanthropic arm of the CFP since its inception five years ago. When the board of directors met to decide CFP’s charitable component, the deliberation was brief. The choice was easy.

“It happened spontaneously,” says Britton Banowsky, who has been executive director of the CFP Foundation since the beginning but previously served as commissioner of Conference USA. “I was at the White House for another sort of event honoring teachers and the light bulb went off.”

Banowsky’s flash brainstorm went something like this: the national championship game and championship weekend are a college thing. Education gets you to college. Teachers implement education. So why not link the CFP Foundation to a teaching cause? Banowsky took the idea to his board.

“Everybody agreed,” he says. “Teachers need our help now more than ever. They don’t get what they need in so many areas. It’s amazingly gratifying to be able to leverage college football’s impact into something as beneficial as Extra Yard.”

The most heartwarming moment of each year’s title game, in fact, may be the halftime appearance on the field by 50 Teachers of the Year, one from each state. They are flown to the championship and treated as royalty. But that’s just a small corner of the Extra Yard carpet -- and the Bay Area Host Committee (BAHC) is putting its own unique footprints on that carpet.

This has become a CFP tradition of sorts. At the previous four championship sites, the host committee has tailored its EYFT focus to its region’s biggest needs. In Dallas and Phoenix, hundreds of thousands of dollars were distributed to classrooms across North Texas and Arizona for teacher-selected programs. In 2017 in Tampa, the emphasis was on programs for college readiness. Last January in Atlanta, the target was early childhood literacy.

And in the Bay Area? BAHC has already pledged to contribute a million dollars to the EYFT mission. So Banowsky sat down with the group, which included several San Francisco 49ers executives, and discussions quickly turned to the NFL team’s already-existing and much-lauded program that promotes STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics) education throughout Silicon Valley and Northern California.

Click! Another light bulb went off.  It made perfect sense to fold the 49ers STEAM package into the EYFT strategy.

“Extra Yard has never gone to a market where they already had an infrastructure as part of the host committee,” says Jesse Lovejoy, who is the director of 49ers EDU. “Last year, more than 300 teachers came through our program. It’s pretty unique in pro sports to have a staff of educators employed by a team. Extra Yard allows us to amplify what we’re already doing.”

So that amplification  is happening. And is ongoing. Over the summer, seven “STEAM Training Camps” were held for teachers across the South Bay, but that became just one prong of Extra Yard’s impact on the area. In September, the CFP Foundation and BAHC announced a partnership with Landed, a San Francisco-based startup that has helped teachers make down payments on homes since 2015.

It’s no secret that affordable housing is a huge Bay Area issue, especially for teachers with modest incomes. Many have left the region for more reasonably-priced markets, greatly thinning the pool of qualified educators. The CFP Foundation and the BAHC will donate $150,000 to help teachers get in the home ownership door, including three major grants of $25,000.

“It’s the one one issue that needs a long-term solution,” Lovejoy concedes. “But just as important as the grants, we can use the platform this game will have to raise awareness of the problem and promote discussion about it. The idea that we can be a part in raising the bar for that is something that means a lot to me.”

And wait, there’s more. During championship weekend, the CFP Foundation will present an Extra Yard for Teachers Summit, a two-hour program for local educators that’s designed to salute and inspire them. Also, two events will raise funds specifically for Extra Yard and the CFP Foundation. The first is a 5K run through San Jose streets. The other is the Taste Of The Championship soiree, with chefs from across the region showing off their best creations for diners and donors. Both events are scheduled for Sunday, Jan. 6, one day before the title game. Information is available at BayArea2019.com.

The million dollars for EYFT will be stretched as much as possible.  In addition to the bigger prongs, chunks of money will be awarded to projects proposed by Bay Area teachers, as chosen by Lovejoy’s staff in conjunction with the CFP Foundation. And yes, some of it will land as a happy unexpected gift to third graders.

As for that generous surprise grant to Ericson, the money is still in the process of being dispersed. The school’s faculty has pondered options. Ericson says the money will either pay for an art program that will be tied to state and national standards…or a theatre initiative…or numerous grade-specific projects.

She says, however, that just being acknowledged for a worthy career is as meaningful as the money.

“To receive feedback from students and parents and the community that you are doing something worthwhile, nothing is more rewarding than that,” Ericson says. “And to have someone on the outside recognize that…it just feels good.”