BTSP Podcast: CJ Composto, NCAA All-American and Mentor

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In this episode of the podcast, we have the honor of speaking with UPenn wrestler CJ Composto, who became a Division I All-American this March with an 8th Place finish at the NCAA tournament. Although CJ dominated on the mat this season, what stands out to us is his dedication to serving others.

“Every time I look up, I see CJ at the mentoring center,” said BTS Philly Executive Director James Mangan. “It’s incredible that he’s able to dedicate the time on top of a rigorous athletic and academic schedule.”

James went further to pose a question to the Philadelphia wrestling community: “What do the three most recent Penn All-Americans (Lorenzo Thomas, Casey, Kent, and CJ Composto) have in common?”

Answer: they were all heavily involved in mentoring at Beat the Streets.

CJ explained how working with the student-athletes at Beat the Streets inspires him to be a better person. 

“My mentee Liam will push me outside of my comfort zone and try to look at areas in my life that I could be getting better at. And then like, I’ll try to push him outside of his comfort zone, because it helps when you have someone that can hold you accountable.”

“I’ll talk with Liam about something that I want to improve on. And then I’ll be in the next week, and he’s like, ‘You doing this, you doing this?’”

Despite an Ivy League academic workload and Division I wrestling schedule, CJ still shows up to the mentoring center as much as possible.

“There are some weeks where maybe I’m able to get into the office like three or four times a week versus another week I can only get them once or twice,” he said. But he makes it a priority.

“One of the things I love the most about Beat the Streets is that everyone that’s there wants to be there, which you don’t really get anywhere.”

Besides a top academic and wrestling program, CJ was driven to Penn by the Philadelphia wrestling ecosystem. “They talked about the whole ecosystem and how serving others is a core value.”

CJ was first drawn to BTS when UPenn Assistant Coach BJ Futrell told him about it. “He explained the benefits that you can get from mentorship and how by lifting other people up, you lift yourself up along the way. So it’s like a win-win type of relationship.”

BTSP Podcast: Regina Johnson

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In this episode of the podcast we are joined by Regina Johnson, who brings a new perspective on the program. Regina is not only the Athletic Director at Martin Luther King High School, but her son and nephew are BTS student athletes.

According to Regina, it’s been a life-changing program for her family. “It’s just a sense that you’re not by yourself. You always have somebody that can support you and assist you. And that’s extremely important, especially today.”

As an administrator at Martin Luther King High School, she has witnessed the power of the program to provide a safe haven for her students. “I’ve had a number of students killed due to gun violence. So every time they leave me, I say, ‘Be safe, have a great day, be safe.’ Because what’s going on in the city is extremely difficult as a mother and as an educator.”

For Johnson, Beat the Streets provides a sense of community which transcends the sport of wrestling. With Beat the Streets programming, “they have a place to go that is comfortable, where they are learning. They’re getting tutoring skills, they’re learning real life situations. So when they have another place to go. It just helps so much.”

As an athlete herself, she understands the life lessons that can come from sports. But as a wrestling mother, she was surprised to find that the wrestling and Beat the Streets community extends beyond the walls of the gymnasium. “So that is really important, especially for students in this environment in Philadelphia, that they know they’re not by themselves and they have people to depend on.”

Beat the Streets has worked hard to grow the sport of girls wrestling in Philadelphia, and Regina has been a tireless ally towards that goal. Johnson has long been a big proponent of girls’ sports and the wrestling program at Martin Luther King High School is a great example of a Beat the Streets partner that has fully embraced girls’ wrestling with a number of girls participating in the program.

“When a couple of the girls said they wanted to wrestle, ‘Okay, cool. I’m gonna support you 110%.’ Girls should not be limited to play one or two things. The sky’s the limit for girls.”

It is not always an easy task, according to Regina. “We also have to open the minds of parents, because we have parents who have certain visions of girls. So it’s not just girls wrestling, it’s girl sports in general. It’s very difficult for me to be in an environment where girls get treated differently. Here in the city of Philadelphia, one thing I noticed is a lot of girls have to watch the younger siblings and do extra housework, and they can’t participate in girls athletics.”

In the end, Regina Johnson finds the fight for girls’ sports worth it. “I feel like if girls are involved in something, your school will be better.”

Regina Johnson is an invaluable partner for Beat the Streets and a crucial member of our community. We want to thank her for all of her work to support the student athletes!

BTSP Podcast: Dan Altomare

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On this episode of the podcast, we get the chance to speak with Dan Altomare, the Director of Program Operations for BTS Philly. Dan has a deep and thorough knowledge of BTS programming from many different levels and is an invaluable member of the staff.

Dan’s journey with BTS Philly began in 2015 when he was getting a degree in Sports and Recreation Management from Temple University. As part of his degree, he got an internship with BTS Philly. He thought it would just be a temporary assignment, but was drawn to the mission and satisfaction of working with the student athletes

“I think something that’s just really unique about Beat the Streets,” said Dan. “That feeling like you really are a part of something bigger than yourself. And the feeling that the work I was doing was important, which not everybody gets to feel, especially not as an intern. There are a lot of interns out there that are grabbing cups of coffee and not really doing anything super meaningful. But I felt like I was making a difference in kids’ lives. And I was lucky to be able to do that.”

The following year, Dan returned as a volunteer at the Mentoring Center. He was planning on returning to school, but then a staff position opened up and he jumped at the opportunity.

Dan talks about the many lessons he learned from mentors within the BTS community like former Executive Director Chris Hanlon and PAL coach Ed Schneider, both of whom have been featured on this podcast.

Dan is now the Director of Program Operations, a role where he coordinates daily with all of the constituents of the BTS community. He works directly with the coaches and organizes the programming at Beat the Streets 30 programs around Greater Philadelphia. 

Executive Director James Mangan praised Dan’s ability to organize these various programs under the BTS umbrella. “He builds adaptable systems. He’s very thoughtful in how we construct programming. He’s great at engaging the different stakeholders in the planning process.”

In this episode, Dan reviews the Spring Schedule for BTS Philly. See the full schedule below.

BTSP Podcast: Aboubakare Diaby

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In this episode of the podcast, we have the privilege to speak with Beat the Streets Philly alum Aboubakare Diaby. As with many of our podcast guests, Aboubakare has been involved in so many different aspects of the Beat the Streets community and serves as an important role model for many of our youth.

Aboubakare began wrestling for Mastery Charter in the 7th grade when an English teacher mentioned his competitive nature would serve him well on the mat. And he took to it right away. But more importantly, it was fun.

Off the mat, Aboubakare became very involved in the BTS mentoring center. “At the Mentoring Center, I got to interact with a lot of different people and build new experiences.” It was there that Aboubakare met his mentor, former podcast guest Ousmane Diara (BTS Philly Podcast: Ousmane Diarra – Beat the Streets)

“He got to go to Central High School, which was the school that I was applying to for my eighth-grade year,” explains Aboubakare. “So, he was a great role model for me and was very impactful in my life.”

Ousmane’s mentorship didn’t end there though. 

“He guided me through the high school application process and the college application process. And he warned me of all the mistakes he made so I wouldn’t be making them over again. And that really pushed me up and gave me an advantage and helped me to achieve my goals of going to Drexel University and wrestling for them.”

Thanks to the guidance he received, Aboubakare now attends Drexel University, where he is a member of the wrestling team and studies Mechanical Engineering. But Aboubakare doesn’t stop there and continues to set high goals for himself. “I want to get my Master’s in mechanical engineering by my fifth year,” he explains. “And athletically. I want to break the starting lineup at Drexel.”

As BTSP Executive Director James Mangan points out in this episode, “It’s so amazing when you hear that the first goal on the list is an academic goal. A lot of people know that Beat the Streets is a wrestling organization. But when we work with student athletes, the student part comes first and that shines in Aboubakare’s story.”

BTSP Podcast: Chris Hanlon

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In this podcast episode, we speak with former Beat the Streets Philadelphia (BTSP) Executive Director Chris Hanlon. So much of the impact that BTSP can achieve today is due to his stewardship from a fledgling organization to a presence that currently serves 1,000 youth at 30 wrestling programs in the Greater Philadelphia area. Chris embodies the Beat the Streets spirit on so many levels. He is passionate about not only wrestling but positively altering life’s trajectory.

It all began in 2008 when Chris moved back to Philadelphia and reconnected with fellow Penn alumni who were starting a new project to serve the Philadelphia community through wrestling. “I enjoyed being on the mat, and I was looking to coach, and it just coincided with Beat the Streets starting up.”

At first, Hanlon had no idea that it would lead to a career. “It was just fun,” says Chris. “I was volunteering, and I saw it as a way to give back – because I was fortunate all along the way. My coaches pulled me up by the bootstraps and gave me opportunities. And I credited wrestling with a lot of my successes.”

At the time, Chris was coaching and driving BTSP wrestlers all around to tournaments and taking them to summer camp. It wasn’t long before he got a call from the BTS Board, offering him a full-time position. It was a dream chance for Hanlon to combine two of his passions: wrestling and changing lives.

At the helm of BTS Philly, Chris developed many programs that have become core to BTS Philly today. One of his most significant innovations was helping create the Mentoring Center.

Chris noticed that many students didn’t have the proper support to pursue their life ambitions through his day-to-day work. “For some of our high school kids, they dreamed of going to college,” Chris explains. “But they were in public schools that were gigantic, and even though they are solid schools, they were one of 3,000 kids. So it’s hard to get personalized support.”

He knew that he had to do something to help these students. “Oftentimes, they were the first generation to attend college. So I would talk to them about that process. And then, I started connecting them with people that could tutor them. And at first, the mentoring happened down at the Penn bookstore.”
“The board understood that education was the cleanest path for these kids to find opportunity,” Hanlon explains. “So they said, ‘This is great, how can you do more of it?'”

To meet this challenge, Beat the Streets rented a place on Market Street, and thus the Mentoring Center was born. Today it continues to serve 150 BTSP youth and provide opportunities for growth and education. Current Executive Director James Mangan is happy to point out that mentoring is a more significant part of the annual budget than wrestling. All thanks to the ideas first set in motion by Chris Hanlon.

Today, Chris is the Executive Director of Chester Charter Scholars Academy Foundation, where he continues work in the social impact sector. “Beat the Streets definitively set the stage for me to continue a career in this space and try to help as many people as possible. So I have a lot of gratitude for my entire exper

BTSP Philly Podcast: Ed Schneider

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In this episode of the podcast we get the chance to speak with Ed Schneider, who brings a wealth of experience and perspective to the Beat the Streets community. Ed began his career as a coach in the late 1980s at the Police Athletic League (PAL). And over the years, he has worked with thousands of student athletes and impacted so many lives.

Ed is a legend in the Philadelphia wrestling community for the impact he has had both on and off the mat. “If anyone’s been in the sport of wrestling in and around Philadelphia, they know him,” said BTS Philly Executive Director James Mangan. He was recently inducted into the Pennsylvania Wrestling Hall of Fame for his achievements as a coach.

Ed began his wrestling career at North Catholic where his coach instilled in him the belief that “you can beat anybody, anyone is capable of being beaten.” That philosophy, according to Schneider, is the essence of Philadelphia wrestling: scrappiness and a desire to win.

At the PAL, Ed created a lot of the foundation upon which Beat the Streets was built. In his early days, Ed explains, “The challenge was to find good people who knew how to work with kids, and wanted to coach. Good people you can trust to show up and provide consistency.”

When Beat the Streets was still in its infancy, they approached Ed about supporting his work with Philadelphia wrestling. But he wasn’t so sure at first.

“Lots of people have promised us everything, but nobody ever came through on the bigger financial level,” he said. So he was surprised when they returned and began funding the PAL, giving new opportunities to the new generation of wrestlers.

As an educator and coach, he loved the idea of Beat the Streets. “They want Philadelphia Beat the Streets to be this hub of wrestling and then provide education and help kids with school.”

Over the years, he has seen the program grow and develop and he continues to be inspired by the student athletes he works with. “You just need to give them the resources to chase it, and they’ll amaze you with what they’ll accomplish.”

“Wrestling is a cycle,” Ed pointed out, “you get a good group batch, and then you have a couple down years, then you get a good batch again. Well, resulting from Beat the Streets, the good batches just kept on coming.”

BTS Philly Podcast: Ben Reiter

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Beat the Streets Philadelphia has some big news to announce.

Our Director of Strategic Partnerships, Ben Reiter, will be moving on to a new role as the Executive Director of Beat the Streets National. While we are sad to see Ben go, we are immensely proud of everything he has accomplished and we know he will continue to do incredible things at the National level.

“I just feel so grateful for my time with Beat the Streets Philly and I’m really excited about what the future holds for Beat the Streets organizations across the country.”

Beat the Streets National was founded in 2017 to organize and focus the efforts of the BTS organizations in different cities across the country. “There are currently eleven accredited chapter organizations and collectively we’re serving 8,400 youth across the country,” Ben explained.

At Beat the Streets Philly, Ben was instrumental in growing our organization’s mentoring efforts and strengthening ties with strategic partners. And we know that he will continue these ambitious efforts at the national level.

“This next chapter for Beat the Streets National is about growing, getting new organizations off the ground, strengthening existing cities, and increasing girls participation,” Ben says. “It’s a really exciting time to be doing this.”

James Mangan, the Executive Director of Beat the Street Philadelphia, couldn’t be more proud of Ben’s accomplishments. “Ben is the right person for this job at National. I’ve gotten to work alongside Ben, and over that time Ben has matured as a nonprofit professional as a leader in this space.”

“Ben did a tremendous job locally at Philadelphia, in developing systems around expanding and growing our mentoring center and our partnerships,” reiterated James.

According to James, Ben helped grow the mentoring center from the early days, “And it took participation from about 20 to 25 kids, to north of 150 in a matter of one season. So that’s tremendous to me.”

While we will miss Ben here at BTS Philly, we know that he will always be a part of our family and he will never be far away from us. And he will work tirelessly towards our mission of altering life’s trajectory for thousands of student athletes across the country.

“I just feel so thankful, so grateful that I can go to sleep every night and I wake up every morning knowing that I’m going to work hard towards something that I full-heartedly believe in,” said Ben. “And I know that the effort I’m putting in is making a difference in this world. How many people have had that?”

BTS Philly Podcast: Harold Anderson

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Harold’s Story

In this episode of the podcast we are joined by former Beat the Streets student-athlete Harold Anderson.

Harold is currently a senior at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business where he is concentrating in Management.

In the middle of sixth grade, Harold transferred to Belmont Charter and one day the wrestling coach approached him to join the team. 

“I had no friends and wasn’t doing anything at that time,” he says. “So I’m like I might as well give it a try, I have nothing to lose.”

Harold immediately found a sense of purpose on the wrestling mat. 

“It gave me that sense of camaraderie,” he explained. “That sense of being a part of something that’s bigger than yourself.”

Through Beat the Streets and the sport of wrestling, Harold met many mentors who pushed him to better himself on and off the mat. 

“I met people who would later form my support system and people who are still in my support system.”

When he got the chance to join a travel team, he jumped at the opportunity. “I was like, take me anywhere, I’ll wrestle with anyone, I don’t care. I just want to go and experience stuff.”

Wrestling taught Harold many valuable lessons over the years that he still carries with him today. Harold recognized how important it was to support his peers along the way. 

“In wrestling you have a responsibility to those around you,” Harold explains. “Whether that be helping someone who’s struggling with conditioning by doing an extra lap with them or making sure you’re paying attention to your teammates while they’re wrestling. If you see someone down sitting on the bench maybe just going by and saying ‘Hey, what’s up? Is everything, okay?’”

Nowadays, Harold continues to serve and be involved with the Beat the Streets community by helping organize the Youth Ambassadors Program, which is aimed to give a voice to the younger BTS graduates within the organization. 

“There is a very strong case to be made for child empowerment and child advocacy. And knowing that children have things to say, that they know what they’re talking about. When you’re dealing with a specific group of people, whether that be kids or a marginalized group, you can’t do anything sustainably without using their actual voices.”

“And I think one of the big things that I want to accomplish with this group is giving the student athletes and their families more of a voice, more empowerment to actively be a part of changing their trajectory.”

Harold is continuing his track record of service with his career choice as well. He landed his dream opportunity with Viacom in their social responsibility department. And he is doing an internship with Nickelodeon Animation’s Community Efforts Department.

“I’m at a dream place, the kid me would have never believed. If you went to that kid who showed up to Belmont that day, and told him all these things happening, he would probably run away and be like, ‘Nah, get out of here.’”

BTS Philly Podcast: Joey McKenna on Mentoring BTS Student Athletes

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Joey’s Inspiration

In this episode of the Beat the Streets Philadelphia Podcast, we get the tremendous opportunity to speak with Joey McKenna, an Olympic level wrestler who serves as a mentor to Beat the Streets student athletes. 

Joey competes at the international level where represents the Pennsylvania Regional Training Center. In college, Joey wrestled for Stanford and Ohio State where he was a three-time NCAA All-American and two-time Big Ten champion. At the senior level, Joey boasts a U.S. Open title and he recently finished as runner-up at the Olympic Trials.

Off the mats, Joey serves as a mentor and role model for many youth at Beat the Streets. “It’s not something that we have to do, but something that we get to do,” says McKenna. “And we can really help shape and change lives. So getting involved in that is super important.”

According to McKenna, the student athletes are not the only ones who benefit from the mentorship program. “They can be role models for me,” he says. “In terms of the way they handle their adversity and the way they’re pushing to become better. It’s contagious.”

He continues to be inspired by drive and discipline of the student athletes. “The amount of adversity that they have to go through to even show up to practice is incredible.”

According to Joey, wrestling can provide a toolkit for facing that adversity and growing as a person. “Through those experiences we become stronger,” Joey says. “And wrestling has taught me that.”

“Wrestling is helping equip them with the intangibles to continue to face adversity,” Joey says. “At the end of the day, you have to face those things head on to grow and become who you want to be.”

Having the Philadelphia wrestling community behind him means a lot to McKenna. He recently wore a Beat the Streets Philadelphia t-shirt at a major wrestling event and was proud of the response he received from the community.

“I received a text after about how all the Beat the Streets kids were so hyped up. That’s encouraging. That’s inspiring to me. It makes it easier to go out there and do what I do.”

“I’m out there wearing a Beat the Streets shirt thinking I’m doing a good thing and in representing this organization, but I know that every single kid is right behind me and supporting me wholeheartedly. And it means a lot to see that.”

This episode is brought to you by Blue Chip Athletic who has helped provide athletic apparel for so many of our student athletes. Thank you BlueChip for your support!

If you are inspired by these stories and would like to help Beat the Streets provide opportunities for more student-athletes, please consider supporting our mission by visiting our donation page or by sharing these stories with friends and family.

BTS Philly Podcast: Ousmane Diarra

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Ousmane’s Story

In this episode of the podcast, we speak with Ousmane Diarra, a Beat the Streets graduate and mentor. Ousmane has such an inspirational journey, starting when he first arrived in the United States at age seven from Mali. Even though he didn’t even speak English at first, Ousmane was never one to shy away from hard work, so he spent the whole summer teaching himself.

After working his way to becoming the valedictorian of his middle school, Ousmane attended Central High School, one of the top schools in Philadelphia. During his sophomore year, Ousmane discovered the sport of wrestling. “I was one of those people who got committed and dedicated really fast,” Ousmane explains. “That’s all I could think about.”

Ousmane explains how wrestling taught him the value of hard work. “When you put in a certain amount of effort, it shows, because you’re the only person wrestling. If you’re wrestling someone and you lose, and then you put in more effort next year and you win, that’s such a rewarding feeling. And that reinforces the value of hard work.”

Not just hard work though, Ousmane says, wrestling also teaches accountability “because only you know how hard you’re pushing yourself. And every day at practice when you have that last to give and you don’t give it, you just know you could have done more. And it’s all reflective of how you perform in matches.”

Ousmane talks about the importance of the Beat the Streets community in his life. “Beat the Streets is like a second family to me at this point,” he says. He became more involved during his junior year when he frequently went to the mentoring center for homework help and test prep. Through Beat the Streets, Ousmane met University of Pennsylvania medical student Eric Friedman who became an important mentor to him. Eric helped him prepare for the ACTs and inspired him through the college application process.

Now Ousmane is working towards a Master’s Degree in Public Health at Drexel University. He is also helping to conduct cutting edge research in vaccines with Dr. Harvey Rubin, the founder of Energize the Chain.

He dedicates so much of his time to helping out and mentoring younger student athletes at Beat the Streets. Ousmane explains why mentoring is so important. “I love seeing growth from the kids. I just love seeing when they first come into the mentoring center how they’re doing with school and how their attitudes change with school. To now when they’re regulars at the mentoring center. They’re the new leaders. They’re leading kids to do the same thing they’ve been doing in the past. I just love seeing whenever kids grow personally and they grow academically. That’s a really big thing for me.”

If you are inspired by these stories and would like to help Beat the Streets provide opportunities for more student-athletes, please consider supporting our mission by visiting our donation page or by sharing these stories with friends and family.