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Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Local Resident Leads Activities Beyond the Classroom

By Cathy Hollander

Hyde Park resident Brian Leshner is the first and only executive director of Activities Beyond the Classroom (ABC), a program to support athletics and other extracurricular activities for the Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS). With 80% of students in the district at or below the poverty level, the funds needed are not abundant in the urban core. 

Brian Leshner greets the crowd at the 2018 Meet & Greet event, which brings together ABC employees, CPS employees and administration, and partners to network and share ideas. 
Originally known as the Student Activities Foundation, a one-time anonymous donation in 2004 provided the initial funding for the nonprofit organization. They hired Leshner, and he began to raise more money from donors, foundations and corporations to support their mission. 
“We don’t believe poverty should be an impediment to success,” said Leshner. “We know kids involved in afterschool programs are more successful.”

Brian Leshner shakes hands with Bill Myles, Assistant Superintendent of CPS, during the Meet & Greet.
CPS and its supporters realized these programs are important for students. Participating in sports and extracurricular activities helps students develop leadership, responsibility and create positive peer pressure. From that knowledge, ABC was born.

Shortly after ABC began, CPS built Stargel Stadium Athletic complex in a central location to house six varsity teams and 30 games each season. 

ABC Board Chair Dick Friedman, Brian Leshner, and past CPS Athletics Director Dave Dierker at the Meet & Greet 
“CPS recognized Stargel required consistent management to juggle the schedules of all six teams,” explained Leshner. “Other schools have boosters that manage the concession stands and run their stadiums. CPS, recognizing ABC was like a big booster club, reached out to ABC to run and manage Stargel Athletic Complex.”

Brian Leshner welcomes 300 students from 10 schools to the annual Soccer & Tennis Invitational at Nippert Stadium, hosted by ABC.
Leshner equated the partnership to hardware and software. CPS builds the hardware, the stadium, the gyms and other facilities. ABC manages the software such as equipment, jerseys and shoes. ABC employs nine athletic directors and helps them run their budgets. Their staff has grown to 25 employees.

“Initially, we were 7th to 12th grade sports, but what we realized is we really needed to push down into the elementary schools,” said Leshner. “The girls in the 7th and 8th grade did not go out with the same participation rate as boys. I’m not a social scientist, I’m a retired businessman; but if you didn’t do it in the 5th or 6th grade, you’re probably not going to do it in the 7th grade. If you never did that, you won’t try.”  

Brian Leshner greets children at the Silverton Paideia Open House
Next, the Cincinnati Reds Community Fund came to ABC with a generous donation to enhance and increase senior high school softball for girls and baseball for boys. After a few years, the Reds Community Fund provided additional funding to expand into junior high schools.  

ABC also began a little girls soccer program for 20 schools. Including boys, there are now 30 programs in 20 schools. In 2013, ABC added youth tennis with low nets and big nerf balls in over 40 schools. (Leshner knows something about tennis; in 2015, he was inducted into the Cincinnati Tennis Hall of Fame.)

A yoga instructor teaches yoga and mindfulness at the College Hill Elementary afterschool program, the ABC Club.
ABC introduced martial arts and wrestling at three schools. There’s also a summer water safety program for kindergartners where children learn to tread water. ABC Clubs, an after-school extracurricular activities programs for children in third through 6th grade, is an opportunity to expose young students to arts, music, yoga, edible art, Mandarin language, sewing and healthy cooking. 
“The students are learning to cook for themselves rather than buying food pre-made, which is always more expensive,” said Leshner.

Teaching sewing skills as part of the Sew What afterschool program at the College Hill Elementary ABC Club
Before entering the nonprofit world, Leshner owned a small business and managed two of his family businesses. In semi-retirement, he was working at a tennis club with a friend when he was asked to be the regional development director for his alma mater alumni foundation. Traveling around the country, he had the opportunity to tell his fellow alumni about “what Walnut Hills is doing today.” When Leshner was approached to lead ABC, he felt he could make an even bigger difference. 
“One child came up at a bubble soccer event and said to me, ‘This is the best day of my life,’ and I thought, any frustrations that go on during the year, it’s worth it,” said Leshner. “That’s why we do this.” 

For those who would like to see how they can make a difference, whether it’s a contribution of funds or time, please call 281-9870, go to, or visit ABC in the Harriet Beech Stowe School on W. 7th Street at Broadcast Plaza.

“ABC is a non-profit organization,” said Leshner. “So, the more money we bring in, the more we can do good things for kids.”

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