Leveraging the power of collegiate sports, with a mission to support veterans and active-duty service members, Athletes of Valor (AoV) teamed up with Fort Bragg’s Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation (FMWR) at Hedrick Stadium and Ritz-Epps Physical Fitness Center. AoV provided Soldiers a way to transition into collegiate sports with football and basketball performance combines June 21 through 22.
“The objective is to teach service members about the college process and support their efforts,” said Alex Stone, founder of AoV and chief operating officer of CoachUp. “When a Soldier has a question, they have someone they can lean on who has knowledge about the process.”
Starting back in 2016, AoV scours the country every year looking for the best athletes currently serving in the U.S. military. AoV has established sports clinics on military bases internationally. These developmental workshops are an opportunity for service members and veterans to enhance their football, basketball and soccer skills, and strengthen their knowledge with instruction from expert coaches.
AoV is comprised of veterans and former collegiate athletes, who have an in-depth knowledge of how to identify, evaluate and develop active-duty military athletes to compete at the collegiate level.
“I think the combine is an excellent event,” said Harold Stallworth, supervisor sports specialist, FMWR. “The guys had lots of fun. I did see the basketball combine as well, it was just as good.”
The AoV combine is open to all active-duty Soldiers. The process included free registration, check-in, recruiting process overview and a combine evaluation. Supported by eight coaches and five AoV staff, service members participated in a series of tests including a dynamic warm-up, professional agility drills, a 40-yard dash, individual positional skill development, offensive and defensive team drills and instruction. A team competition and 7-on-7 games capped the evenings events.
“Some have a goal to future success, and some just want to come out here, play ball and have some fun — a morale boost on a Friday night,” Stone said.
Clinics implemented by AoV are designed to encourage teamwork and give service members maximum instruction on their positions in sport. In addition to the physical training, participants can expect to receive a platform to understand the college recruiting process, build a resume and profile, connect with a scout and establish relationships with college coaches and other like-minded athletes.
As a former Marine, Stone comprehends the challenges associated with transitioning military and identifies with focusing a direction in the field of sports. Securing a job in licensing and team sports at the Under Armour headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland after his time in service, Stone worked with the company for five years, spurring his idea to host sporting opportunities on military bases. As the catalyst for AoV, the organization hosted its first event at a CrossFit gym outside a base with an attendance of 35 service members.
“I used to joke when we would come to events, I wondered why we are not doing these on military bases,” Stone said. “Once I started to talk to coaches and athletes, especially the ones who transitioned from military to civilian, many were unaware of the path. And I thought, well, someone should do something about that. I started moonlighting and helping as many guys as I could. Found some investors and expansion, I moved back home to Boston, and started the company full time in 2016.”
Depending on the aspirations and goals of the prospective service member, the combines afford a platform for propelling his or her student athlete ambitions. AoV coaches and staff prioritize active duty service members who are leaving the military within the earliest timeline of six to eight months.
AoV incorporates factors such as type of sport, targeted schools, degree programs of interest and transcript review as they provide assistance.
“AoV has about 100 veterans across the country playing ball right now,” Stone said. “We had our first round of graduates this year. They are an example of a dream that has come to life.”