By STEFAN GESTWICKI
OBSERVER Sports Reporter
The SUNY Fredonia Incubator in Dunkirk was built to harbor startup businesses and assist local entrepreneurs to get their ideas off the ground.
One of those businesses with the potential for almost unlimited growth is The Center for Sports Skills Measurement & Improvement, LLC.
The slogan on its website, www.allsportsskillstest.com, states that "The Center for Sports helps student athletes improve, parents stay informed, and coaches explore information on the country's athletes like never before."
"My goal is to help kids ask and answer three questions," President and CEO Kevin Morse said. "Where am I today? Where do I want to go? Do I have a game plan to get there?"
The Center has paired with baseball and softball training facilities throughout the United States, as well as The Dromgoole Center, an academic company in the Boston, Mass. area, to provide a uniquely comprehensive opportunity to athletes, parents and coaches.
"There are certainly people in the United States doing parts of this," Morse added, "but we believe we're really the only one putting together a real coordinated program that also has elements that nobody is doing."
The first person who can benefit from the Center's services is an athlete.
An athlete, paired with his or her local training facility, can take certain physical tests such as tee exit speed, pitching velocity, etc. and input the results into the "Leaderboard" feature. From there, that athlete can see where their numbers stack up compared to other athletes on a county, state or national level.
The assumption is that when a left-handed high school pitcher, for instance, sees that he's slightly below the state average for his fastball velocity, he's going to be more motivated to improve that number. Who wouldn't want to see their name go up the leaderboard?
"That's why we test," Morse commented. "The motivation to improve is just staggering."
Every athlete that takes a test with The Center also has access to the "Clubhouse" page. In addition to being able to view their testing information, the athlete creates an athletic profile where they can share achievements, awards, interests, other sports they play and anything else they'd like to share.
Also on that "Clubhouse" page, an athlete has access to instructional and informational videos.
When Morse and his staff receive a new infielder's training video, they can send that out to every player who is signed up in the program or just filter it to baseball and softball infielders. The first video every athlete will watch is an introduction from the president of The Dromgoole Center.
While impressive and remarkably helpful, that part in itself isn't the groundbreaking aspect of The Center.
The student-athlete is also given an academic checklist, of sorts. That list will let the athlete know when they should sign up for the SATs, what they should be doing to improve their GPA, what books they should be reading and a whole lot more.
Not only does the site show them what needs to be done, it gives them the tools to do it right there.
For example, there is a link that takes that athlete right to a website where they can register for the SATs.
To be honest, high school students are often procrastinators and that's why The Center has a parents' page.
A parent has access to all of their child's athletic results and academic progress. Everything is color-coded. So if something is late, it will be highlighted in red and the parent knows their child needs to get on that specific task. There may also be videos linked in especially for parents.
Of course, perhaps the biggest benefactors of The Center's services are collegiate coaches, who are permitted access to all information free of charge.
A coach can log on and search for a specific athlete, such as "Tim Grant" and that profile will pop up, allowing the coach to check the player's athletic progress, academic standing and basically everything about said player.
Or a coach can log on and search for specific traits. If a coach is looking for left-handed first basemen who graduate in 2014 with a tee exit speed of at least 70 mph, that's all he has to put in and up will pop a list of everyone who fits that description.
Again, there are other companies that offer portions of what The Center for Sports Skill Measurement and Improvement is doing, but they offer far less for far more.
"There are over 70 recruiting services," Morse added. "Some do a very, very good job. Some charge thousands of dollars per year. That's a lot more than a dollar a day and you get a lot less."
This is a business Morse knows well. He owns and operates Southern Tier All-Star Sports (STARS) in Falconer. It helps to know the ins and outs of the baseball/softball training business when recruiting facilities to join The Center.
"This time last year we had four testers," Morse continued. "Now we have 18 locations in 10 states..
We're looking to have 30 by the end of next year and 100 within five years. Once we hit over 50, we'll be the single largest network of baseball and softball training facilities in the United States."
Among those 18 testers that Morse has recruited already are some big names in the sports world.
Carrie Dever-Boaz pitched in two consecutive College World Series, she was a 3-time All-American, she was a former assistant coach at Virgina and Florida. Most recently she was head coach of the
Washington Glory of the Women's Pro Fastpitch League and won the league title. Priot to that Carie was the head softball coach at Arkansas.
Tim Epling is the General Manager of the West Virginia Miners, a team in the Prospect League that recently won the 2012 championship. His family financed the multi-million dollar stadium their team plays in and is owner of Upper Deck Training Center in Beckley, West Virginia.
"These are the kinds of people that are finding out about us and saying 'Yeah, I need to be part of this,'" Morse said. "No one has ever said this is a bad idea. It makes sense to everyone."
While getting baseball and softball down pat is the No. 1 goal right now, Morse has plenty of long-term goals he'd like to accomplish.
Going international, expanding to other sports such as tennis, golf and hockey, and even a regional baseball tournament right here in Western New York between all of the training facilities that participate in the program are all on Morse's radar.
"We just hope that we continue to develop the right way," Morse concluded.