UWL alumni creates non-profit to support La Crosse area K-12 students


Photo retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/RisingAthletesOrg/.

Jack O'Donnell, Sports Reporter

Russell Murphy (Rusty) is a University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Alumni who partnered with a local parent, Katie Leaver, in the La Crosse community to create Rising Athletes. Rising Athletes is a non-profit organization benefiting K-12 youth sports. “I’ve participated in sports all my life, at least one sport all year round,” said Murphy, when explaining his inspiration for co-founding Rising Athletes.  

Another Inspiration for Murphy was the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Rusty said he saw a need to help all young athletes get the opportunity to still play youth sports even if seasons are canceled. There were club teams being formed for kids to be able to still play, but these are expensive. “Not all people can afford that. My goal was to have funding for the public schools to come back and continue their sports,” said Murphy explaining how Rising Athletes helps students stay active. “Also if kids who couldn’t afford to be a part of those club teams, we can help them out.”

One of the biggest challenges for Rising Athletes is figuring out how to acquire funding. “Right now, we are mostly crowdfunding with family and friends and then those friends and their families,” he said, on how Rising Athletes is working through the challenges. “We are also talking with local businesses and working on grants.” Trying to figure out what they want to do, but also getting the resources to do what they want to do has been a steep learning curve for Murphy.  

Rising Athletes is still in the beginning stages, but Murphy is still looking ahead to what this nonprofit can be. Murphy just graduated from UWL this past winter and understands that right now Rising Athletes cannot fully support him. He currently works in the Twin Cities area but would love to continue on with Rising Athletes full time. “My hope is that this grows enough to where I can work on it full time,” said Murphy. He also understands that it is a nonprofit and if he were to be employed, he needs to find an ethical way to pay himself.  

Murphy currently works in the Twin Cities area, but he has his co-founder who lives in the La Crosse area, Katie Leaver. “She is really insightful, and she sees things differently as a parent than I would see them,” said Murphy on how beneficial Leaver has been to Rising Athletes. “She is really passionate about this, and her past careers have brought a lot to the table.”  Murphy does understand the uniqueness of the relationship between him and Leaver. One, a recent college graduate, and the other, a parent. But he explains he would not have it any other way.  

While Rising Athletes was created during, and for, the pandemic, Murphy still believes it can only get better. “It would clear the picture up on how to do in-person activities, we have future plans to do mentor programs,” said Murphy on plans after the pandemic is in the rear-view mirror.  

Murphy says he encourages students who are pursuing entrepreneurial careers. “I thought this was going to be a very daunting task, which it is at times, but it is possible to start a nonprofit or even just a small business as a college student.”