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Want to play sports? Spend some time with a book first

By Daniella Segura, The Beach Reporter | Read it on Hermosa Beach Reporter
Tuesday, August 3, 2017

When Derek Locklear started the nonprofit, Let’s Give Them a Shot, 13 years ago, he thought he would simply be bringing sports instruction to kids in at-risk areas in Los Angeles who couldn’t afford it.

After a few years, Locklear, better known as Coach Derek in the South Bay, noticed a problem he couldn’t ignore: Many of his athletes were struggling in school because they had trouble reading.

Now, in a new after school program in Watts, students learn different sports, like baseball, soccer, basketball and football. However, the program is focused first and foremost on literacy.

Before being released to the field or court, children must read for 21 minutes with a volunteer or coach.

“Our job at Let’s Give Them a Shot is to pick up the children that have been left behind,” Locklear said. “The solution was reading and I couldn’t ignore that.”

So, Locklear created a branch of Let’s Give Them a Shot called the Alpha Leadership Academy at 112th Elementary in Watts. The program takes the bottom 20 percent of second graders and puts them into an after school program.

“We can teach them how to play sports all day long, and they may be really good at soccer, basketball or baseball, but if they can’t read, it’s all going to be for naught, because they’re not going to be in school anyway,” Locklear said.

“Sports now becomes the carrot. We want them just as excited about reading as playing a game and that’s no easy task. But, we’re getting there,” Locklear said.

Let’s Give Them a Shot is, in part, funded through Locklear’s business, Coach Derek, Inc.

Locklear, originally from North Carolina, started his company in 2002. In less than a year, he went from coaching five kids to 300. He now serves communities from throughout the South Bay and up the coast to Santa Monica.

Two years after starting his business, Locklear wanted to use his company to give back to the community.

“I had this vision. It wasn’t a dream. It wasn’t a thought. It just literally came to me that someday I was going to be running youth sports programs for children that otherwise couldn’t afford it,” Locklear said.

CDIThrough his company, Locklear met a Manhattan Beach woman who was an administrator at Manhattan Place Elementary in Inglewood. She asked Locklear if he’d be willing to volunteer his time to offer a sports program at the school.

“So every Friday, I started showing up at this school from 8 in the morning to 2:30 in the afternoon,” Locklear explained. “I would run what I thought would be sports classes, but it ended being P.E., because the school didn’t have a physical education program.”

Through his nonprofit, Locklear volunteered himself and provided staff and sports equipment.

His newest venture, Alpha Leadership Academy, where he’s combining reading skills and sports, entered its second year and has about 25 students. The program has new second graders, as well as the initial group who are rising third graders. The program’s goal is to see these elementary schoolers through to college.

“The biggest thing is getting these kids to college and with reading comes that self-confidence. With reading comes that self-esteem. With reading they’re able to open their mind to endless possibilities,” Locklear said.

Locklear also created another program under Let’s Give Them a Shot called the Coaches in Training Program. A select group of teenagers from Watts are paid to coach and mentor a group of young children. Before becoming paid employees, potential coaches are trained during actual Let’s Give Them a Shot sessions.

Locklear said his goal is to help get these high schoolers to college as well, whether that means helping them with their college applications or helping them physically move into their college dorms.

“When we hire these coaches, the younger kids see that ‘Hey, there’s someone from my community and they’re going to college. I can do that too,’” Locklear said.

For Locklear, coaching and helping kids is more than a job.

“I found my passion. I’m very lucky. I know a lot of people trying to find their niche or what they love to do, and I’ve always had it and have been on purpose ever since,” Locklear said.

Contact Daniella Segura at, or you can follow her on Twitter @dsegurajourno.

Read it on Hermosa Beach Reporter

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