Tony and Nyree Bland know what it takes to achieve success at the highest levels of athletic competition, and they have been sharing that knowledge with young people in communities throughout New Tampa and Wesley Chapel for more than a dozen years.
“It’s about being the best you can be and having integrity,” says Nyree.
That’s the foundation of the New Tampa couple’s youth sports training company, PROtential Sports, where the stated mission is “Teaching Life Through Sports.”
Achieving high standards of performance through hard work and fair play is what the Blands credit for their own personal and professional successes, on and off the fields of play.
Nyree was ranked as the number-one junior tennis player in North Carolina before a knee injury curtailed her professional tennis aspirations. Tony was a wide receiver for the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings for four years, including the team’s historic 16-victory season in 1998, when he played behind NFL Hall of Famers Cris Carter and Randy Moss.
Passing on the insights and lessons from their own sports and life experiences is the goal of every after-school instructional sports program and summer camp the Blands offer.“We’re trying to teach them how to be good people, as well as being good athletes,” says Nyree.
Their venture into the business side of athletics came about in 2003, when Tony participated in a youth football camp with then-Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Brad Johnson (who was also a teammate of Tony’s at Minnesota) and former Bucs running back Michael Pittman.
That experience brought home Tony’s own football beginning, as a 14-year-old playing in a youth football league and then catching passes at Pinellas Park High. His focused dedication to athletic achievement became part of his overall lifestyle, including academics, and he earned a scholarship to Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, where he majored in political science.
PROtential district manager Julie Garretson is another lifelong athlete who aspired to a career in physical education and now oversees many of the day-to-day operations of PROtential Sports. Since the youth activities are community-oriented, that means developing relationships with the activity and lifestyle directors in local communities like The Ridge at Wiregrass Ranch in Wesley Chapel and Heritage Isles, and stopping by when the children are on-site to check on things.
So Many Locations!
According to Garretson, PROtential Sports’ after-school instructional sports programs for students ages 5-12 years old are located at Club Tampa Palms, Arbor Greene, Heritage Isles, Grand Hampton and Cory Lake Isles in New Tampa. While previously only available to residents, the Cory Lake Isles location is now open to everyone.
In Wesley Chapel, PROtential has been running summer camps and after-school instructional sports programs at Seven Oaks and Meadow Pointe IV, and this summer has added The Ridge.
“We are so happy to be in The Ridge,” Nyree says, adding that the summer programs have been a big hit in the bustling new community. “It’s just a beautiful subdivision, the amenities are great, the staff is amazing and the residents coming to PROtential have been wonderful.”
Being able to operate in the new communities popping up in Wesley Chapel is a treat for Nyree and Tony. Developments like The Ridge grow into long-time relationships, like at Heritage Isles, where PROtential is in its 16th year of operations.
“Anytime you have a chance to grow with a new development, it’s a blessing,” Nyree says.
PROtential also offers the added convenience of transportation, which is extremely helpful for families where both parents work, especially during the school year. Children can be transported from school back to their communities in many cases, and are provided with exercise and positive team-building skills that they can’t find at home playing Fortnite.
“We pick up from all the local schools,” says Garretson. “We do two to three sports rotations a day and try to hit each major sport twice a week.”
Besides getting a chance to learn about and play a variety of sports, like baseball, flag football, golf, tennis and soccer, kids participating in a PROtential Sports after-school instructional sports program also learn the principles of teamwork and sportsmanship.
“We want the kids to always put their best foot forward,” Garretson says, adding that instilling a solid work ethic and sense of compassion in young people — whatever their athletic goals may be — will serve them well in the future. And, she says that’s important for the children to understand.
Nyree adds that while PROtential places a strong emphasis on athletic development, it balances that with an equal dose of character building. When former PROtential participants who went onto become college athletes come back to help the younger generation at their summer camps, Nyree knows that incorporating lessons about integrity, responsibility and compassion at PROtential have paid off.
“We want to make great athletes and great people,” she says. “We are devout Christians, and this is our mission in life.”
There are about 20 coaches working directly with children at PROtential. Experience in sports is a requirement, but according to Garretson, they need more to meet PROtential’s standards by also being able to pass on athletic and life skills.
“(Our instructors) should be teachers,” Julie says. “They are 50-percent life coaches and 50-percent sports coaches.”
One of PROtential’s coaches is Brooks Lovely, who says he has been playing sports since he was 3-years-old. Brooks was an offensive lineman at Maryville College in Maryville, TN, and he also was a football coach at Robinson High in Tampa before signing up with PROtential.
“We try to make a positive impact on their lives every day,” Brooks says. “We teach them what we learned in our lives through sports, like the importance of teamwork and communication.”
He adds that part of the job sometimes involves helping kids in the after-school instructional sports programs with their homework and instilling a positive attitude about getting good grades.
“(We tell the kids that they need to learn to like school,” he says.
Coach Devonn Polk, a graduate of Wharton High in New Tampa who played tight end for the Wildcats, can easily relate to the kids he’s responsible for at PROtential Sports. To him, you’re never too young to learn a sense of responsibility and he says PROtential Sports offers a way to do just that.
“We teach them not just how to play sports, but how to be good leaders,” the Heritage Isles resident says.
The lessons that New Tampa resident Sandra Ferris says her son Alexavier has learned through PROtential Sports makes the program a winner in her view.
“It’s gratifying to watch my son learn a variety of sporting techniques while gaining lifelong leadership and sportsmanship skills,” Ferris says. “I firmly believe that Alexavier will learn to exemplify PROtential Sports’ motto by developing an appreciation for teamwork, perseverance and consistency throughout his adolescence into adulthood.”
NFL Flag Football, Too!
Now that the summer programs have ended, PROtential Sports has begun shifting gears as it fields inquiries about its after-school instructional sports programs. After-school sports programs cost $68 per week (or $295 a month) per child.
If you pay online, use coupon code AS1819 to drop the price to $58/$255.
It’s also the time of year when interest in football is renewed. For kids who want to compete in organized, limited-contact flag football in a professionally-run league, PROtential Sports offers NFL Flag Football in both the fall and the spring.
The NFL Flag Football program operates under a license granted by the National Football League. It’s a 6-on-6 game, which is known for exciting, low-contact playmaking on the gridiron.
Currently in its second year, PROtential’s NFL Travel Flag Football League — which offers more of a competitive experience — also continues to be a success, including a second-place finish in a national tournament held at Lakewood Ranch.
“That’s Tony’s baby,” Nyree jokes.
The New Stuff
PROtential Sports is adding a golf academy at Heritage Isles Golf Club each day from 4 p.m.-6 p.m., and Tony also is starting new middle school leagues this fall.
Geared towards athletes who may not be ready to get playing time on teams with seventh and eighth graders, PROtential also will begin offering leagues in a handful of sports to be determined, like tennis, basketball, soccer and others.
Teams, which will play and practice each day from 4 p.m.-6 p.m., will represent their communities. So, a team from The Ridge might travel to Grand Hampton for a soccer match, or Meadow Pointe IV might take on Cory Lake Isles in a tennis contest.
Because many sixth graders can’t compete against bigger and more experienced schoolmates, they can often lose an entire season of playing while they wait their turns. The Blands aren’t looking to compete against middle school sports teams at area schools, but are hoping to help sixth graders in particular lay the foundation for future athletic success at school.
“We want to get kids ready,” Nyree says. “And, of course, not just for sports.”
More information about PROtential Sports’ NFL Flag Football, after-school instructional sports programs, sports leagues and camps is available at PROtentialSports.com or by calling (813)-843-9460. Also, see the ad on pg. 35 of this issue for more information.