Who We Are
Our founders, cousins Tyler Kazio and Julian Viera have a strong passion for equity in academics and athletics. The inspiration for Ballers & Bookworms began in 2016, when Julian was attending New Egypt High School and Tyler (New Egypt High School Class of 2009) was a volunteer football coach there. That year the school implemented "Pay to Play" for all of its school sports programs. "Pay to Play" at New Egypt High School meant each student-athlete had to pay $50 per sport they participated in, with a max of $150 a year per child and a max of $300 per family. Because New Egypt High School was and is a small school, most athletes played more than one sport, meaning many families paid the maximum or close to it. In the small rural community of New Egypt, these fees also deterred families and kids who could not afford it from participating in school sports. “Pay to Play” continues on today at the New Egypt school system and has been implemented across the state and country. As budget cuts continue, education is often the first to see funding cuts, and to save the little money they have, schools typically turn to sports programs as the first place to decrease their budget. As an assistant coach for the New Egypt High School football team, Tyler saw this play out first-hand. Players' families had to dig deep in their own pockets to try and fund their kids' payment just for their kids to be able to play. As a coach, Tyler could not fund a player's season, as this would be giving preference to particular students over others. But he knew something needed to be done about this system. After coaching for 4 years at New Egypt High School, Tyler went on to coach a junior college football program of freshman and sophomores in the state of New Jersey attending community college. Most players participate in “JUCO” football because they need more film to prove to college scouts that they are worth a roster spot, they did not have the grades in high school to get into their desired college/university, or they got into trouble and need time to show they have matured both on and off the field. The JUCO program was also “Pay to Play”. Players had to pay $1,500 upfront each season before they could even begin to participate in practices and games. That was all but impossible for many of the players who either didn’t have that level of financial support from their family, or needed to financially support their families themselves. As a tutor for various STEM topics since he was 14 years old, Julian has always had a passion for helping other people learn. Growing up low-income and going to a small rural public high school himself, Julian is well aware of how often educational gaps are simply a result of a lack of resources. The reality is that standardized test prep, individualized tutoring, small classroom sizes, quality textbooks, and school supplies are often inaccessible for students in under-resourced areas. Julian firmly believes that no student should ever have to worry about lacking these educational necessities. With four years of high school football and a year of football at MIT under his belt, Julian also understands the particular stresses being a student-athlete puts on young people, especially when financial burdens and time constraints force their way into the classroom and onto the field. With Tyler’s coaching experience and helping student-athletes succeed on and off the field, and Julian’s passion for tutoring and academic guidance, Ballers & Bookworms was born. By providing free individualized academic support and sport-specific athletic training, we hope to provide student-athletes the resources they need to succeed.
The main focus of Ballers & Bookworms is to level the playing field. This means that we want to see a world where all student-athletes have access to quality athletic training, nutrition, academic support, and financial assistance no matter their family's economic situation. Because of rising participation costs like equipment and Interscholastic participation fees, more and more athletes are left on the sideline.
In 2019, 162 school districts in New Jersey admitted to charging a fee to participate in sports. That same year it was reported the average national pay-to-play fee was $161 and when equipment and travel expenses were added the average cost per child per sport was around $400. This creates gender bias in households on which child should play sports.
Studies also show that there are significant gaps when it comes to unofficial training and practice, comparing wealthier families to low-income homes. High-income households can afford to pay double for camps, private lessons, and participation fees. Low-income students are left to free play or officially organized practices.
Most importantly, we believe that there are no athletics without academics. In order to play hard on the field, student-athletes need to perform just as well off the field and in the classroom. Physical activity and academic achievement are linked which is why we promise that all of our students will be paired with passionate tutors and given the necessary tools to win in school.
Ballers & Bookworms, and our "level the playing field" vision, is all about eliminating inequality within Interscholastic sports. If a student-athlete is talented and motivated, they should have every opportunity to realize their potential. We hope you feel the same way!