BTSP Podcast: Lender Vega, Wrestling Coordinator

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In this episode of the podcast, we have the chance to speak with Lender Vega, who works full-time at BTS Philly as the Wrestling Coordinator. Lender has a rich history with the Beat the Streets program.

While we often talk about the intersection of academics and athletics, Lender’s story has an unusual twist. During a freshman year seminar, his teacher offered the students five extra points if they participated in a sport. Lender jumped at the opportunity and joined the wrestling team. Despite a rocky start, Lender fell in love with the sport and continued improving.

Lender’s life journey has been defined by his resilience. He moved to the US from the Dominican Republic when he was just 11 years old, and at the time he didn’t know English. But Lender committed himself to school and began to excel in the classroom. “My dad from day one said: don’t get in trouble and keep your grades up.”

As Lender advanced on the wrestling mat, he began thinking about wrestling in college. Unlike today, Beat the Streets didn’t have a formalized mentoring program at the time. So former Executive Director Chris Hanlon walked him through the college admission process and took him on school visits.

In the podcast, Executive Director James Mangan points out, “In a lot of ways, this was a pilot phase of the mentoring program. Beat the Streets was well-equipped to address the needs from a wrestling perspective, but it was always in the plan to figure out how to also serve academically. And you were early in that phase of discovery.”

Lender finally settled on a Junior College in New Jersey, but his challenges didn’t stop there. Lender found that his public school education didn’t prepare him for the rigors of college, and despite his best effort, he failed out of school.

It was at this tough time that Chris Hanlon reached out. “Hanlon just said, ‘Hey, stick around us and we’ll see where you’re where you’ll land.’” He brought Lender on as a coach for Beat the Street youth. But Lender’s story doesn’t stop there. After a year of coaching, he decided to go back to school. 

 Lender eventually graduated from East Stroudsburg University, becoming the first college graduate in his family. And now as the Wrestling Coordinator at Beat the Streets he is doing amazing work and serving the community that he comes from. We are grateful to have Lender in the Beat the Streets family!

BTSP Podcast: Evan Barczak NCAA Qualifier and Lead Mentor

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In this episode of the podcast, we got the chance to speak with Evan Barczak, a Drexel University wrestler who has been an instrumental member of the Beat the Streets Philadelphia community for the past four years. According to Executive Director James Mangan, “His role as a lead mentor really helped shape a lot of this programming over the last couple of years.”

As a freshman at Drexel, Evan heard about the program from an older teammate and showed up to a pizza party event. He was immediately inspired by the student-athletes he met there. “The kids were just so excited about wrestling. They just wanted to talk about the World Championships or what was going on in college wrestling. And I was like, ‘Oh, this is awesome!’”

“And then just talking to the kids and hearing their stories and what they’ve gone through. And I was just like, ‘Man, I want to be a part of this.’”

Evan hit the ground running and hasn’t stopped since then. Despite a full slate of college courses and a Division I wrestling schedule, he managed to prioritize spending time at the mentoring center.

“If something’s really important to you, you’ll make time for it in the day. And this is something that’s important to me. I want to get back to these kids and be there for them.”

Despite his rigorous schedule, Evan continues to draw motivation from the kids themselves. “Some of them had very hard lives,” he says. “And overcome very hard things , but they’re just always in a great mood. They’re super excited. I can’t be upset. I can never complain about having a bad day.”

Evan graduated from Drexel in 2021 and is continuing his education to pursue an MBA. Here at Beat the Streets we are beyond excited that Evan will be with us one more term as a lead mentor.

“It’s really nice to know that he’s going to be around a little bit longer,” said James Mangan.

11 Wrestlers Qualify for the USA Wrestling National Championship

Over the past years, Beat the Streets Philadelphia wrestlers have increasingly found success in Freestyle/Greco-Roman wrestling, and this year was no different. After an exciting spring season of qualifiers, weekend clinics, & practices, BTSP was able to take eighteen student-athletes to Alvernia University to compete in the PA Freestyle & Greco Wrestling State Championships. The top four finishers at the state tournament in 16U & Junior age groups at each weight class qualify for the USAW Freestyle/Greco-Roman National Championships in Fargo, North Dakota! In combination between the State tournament and the Regional qualifiers, BTSP has a record-high ten BTSP wrestlers qualified for the Fargo National Championships this July! A summary of the results is listed below: 

16U

  1. Artem Skyba 170 lbs Freestyle Northeast Regional Champion
  2. Bekhruz Sadriddinov 170 lbs Greco Northeast Regional Champion / Freestyle PA State Champion
  3. Greyson Catlow-Sidler 152 lbs Freestyle States 4th / Greco PA State Champion.
  4. Muhyyee-ud-Din Abdul-Rahman 170 lbs PA Greco States 4th 
  5. James Taft 170 lbs PA Greco States runner up 

Junior

  1. Matt Clarke 195 lbs Greco Northeast Regional 6th place finish
  2. Davian Waite 220 lbs PA Greco State Champion.
  3. Davlat Pulotjonov 160 lbs PA Greco State 3rd 
  4. Ernazar Baiyshbekov 152 lbs PA Greco States 3rd / PA Freestyle States 4th
  5. Shermuhammad Sadriddinov Greco Northeast Regional 3rd

Additionally, BTSP wrestlers had great success at the youth & middle school levels. Below are the results for our young wrestlers: Bantam

  1. Samiyah Rahming 119 lbs (1st FS / 1st GR)

HM- Julissa Ortiz 127 lbs due to injury she was unable to compete at states. Julissa is a Folkstyle state champion, has placed at all the freestyle and Greco tournaments she has entered and is a part of the 14U PAUSAW Women’s team currently competing at Tulsa Oklahoma. 

Lastly, Beat the Streets would like to thank all coaches for making this spring season possible! David James, Parker Kropman, and Dorthea West. I would also like to thank the parents and mentors behind the scenes. Thank you to everyone who worked so hard all season long to provide kids with high-level wrestling experiences and a fun team environment to be a part of!

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?”