January 24, 2014

Phalen ’89 Honored With NCAA Silver Anniversary Award

Recognized At NCAA Convention In San Diego

For the past 20 years, Earl Phalen '89 has worked tirelessly to educate under-privileged children. He is the founder and CEO of Summer Advantage USA, a summer reading program that partners with school districts to provide quality summer learning programs for children in grades K-8 and Building Educated Leaders For Life, which operates summer and after-school education programs in major U.S. cities. His work has impacted the lives of countless children.

Phalen also is a former Yale men's basketball player. He earned a varsity letter for the Bulldogs in 1989 under head coach Dick Kuchen. Last Friday, the NCAA honored Phalen for his outstanding work by presenting him with a Silver Anniversary Award at its annual convention in San Diego. He was one of six former student-athletes recognized along with Troy Aikman (UCLA), Rodney Peete (USC), George Pyne (Brown), Katey Stone (New Hampshire) and Dara Torres (Florida).

"It is quite an honor and a huge surprise," Phalen said last week before departing for San Diego.

Phalen believes playing basketball at Yale played a significant role in his success. He was originally recruited out of Norwood, Mass., a blue collar town outside of Boston, to play golf. Instead, he elected to walk-on to the basketball team. Although he saw limited action with the varsity, the experience was very meaningful.

"It was wonderful," Phalen said. "I loved my teammates, the camaraderie. The highlights of my academic [success] came during basketball season. I had to prioritize my time. I grew so much."

One of his most memorable moments came during a game at Harvard and in front of nearly 100 family and friends, including his seven older brothers.

"It was on my birthday," he recalled. "I played really well. It was a great experience getting to come home."

It was also during his time at Yale that Phalen first became interested in social change. He was a political science major and had aspirations of becoming the mayor of a big city. That started to change when he became involved in a Jonathan Edwards College fund-raiser for a New Haven shelter.

"I think we raised $2000," he said. "It showed me that giving back is really [important]."

After graduation, Phalen deferred enrollment to Harvard Law School for a Lutheran Year of Service, which he spent working at the Luther Place Night Shelter in Washington, D.C.

"I loved the direct service," he said.

After his year in Washington, D.C., Phalen went on to Harvard Law School, where he first became involved in education reform. He and several of his classmates started an after school program, BELL (Buliding Educated Leaders For Life) which eventually became Summer Advantage.

The success of Summer Advantage has led to another endeavor. Phalen created the George and Veronica Phalen Leadership Academies, charter schools named after his parents. The 10 schools opened in August.

Moving forward, Phalen's goals are to raise money to open new schools, have students score 90 percent on the mastery test and to grow the summer program from its current level of 10,000 students to 100,000.

Over the years, Phalen's work has earned him a number of honors. He was awarded the President's Service Award in 1997 by President Bill Clinton for outstanding community service. He also is a Mind Trust and Ashoka Fellow, was awarded the Black Entertainment Television Shine A Light Hero Award and is a three-time recipient of Fast Company's Social Capitalist Award.

It isn't the awards and honors, though, that drives Phalen. It's hearing the stories about the children who have benefitted from his programs. He remembers talking to a woman whose grandson was in the Summer Advantage program.

"She told me that her grandson stood up in front of his 43 family members and told them he had decided he was going to go to Butler University," Phalen said. "He was going to be the first member of the family that went to college. He was in third grade."

That is just one of the countless children whose lives are changing for the better thanks to Phalen.

Report filed by Tim Bennett, Yale Sports Publicity

 

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