LYNN — Support for student-athletes in Lynn continues long after the Friday night lights dim and crowds file out; long after the jerseys are hung and the whistle stops blowing.
Serving more than 250 high school athletes in football, basketball, track and field, and baseball, No Ceilings Youth Group, run by Tony Seaforth, targets student-athletes in grades 9-12 by providing academic support and social mentorship.
Since the inception of the nonprofit in 2011, when Seaforth pitched the idea to school administrators, he has touched the lives of more than 500 student-athletes in a way teachers, coaches, and parents cannot, one student said.
“Just give me the chance to show you what I can do,” Seaforth said to school officials.
Years later, the program is truly touching the students who need it most.
“There really isn’t anyone in the city who can do what Tony does,” said Keoni Gaskin, a rising senior at Lynn Vocational Technical Institute. “Our coaches are great role models for example, but there is something about Tony that makes him relatable in all situations.”
Gaskin, who plays football and track and field for the Tigers, is one of the students in the program that requires weekly check-ups between athletes and Seaforth.
The program also provides academic advising, mentoring, tutoring, advocacy and next level prep, in addition to a great emphasis placed on the pursuit of a college application.
“I know the structure of Lynn. I grew up where college wasn’t a conversation,” Seaforth said. “A lot of students in their household don’t have the figure that went to college. I want to create a pipeline for kids to aspire the pursuit of a degree after high school.”
Although Seaforth understands the need for academic services and social support offered to everyone in Lynn, he found athletes can use an extra push and fully tap their potential.
The idea grew roots during Seaworth’s time at Bentley University in Waltham, where he was a four-year member of the football team and captain during his senior year.
Growing up and playing football, Seaforth looked back at his athletic career and realized he was the only one who made it through his sport.
Seaforth, who said he was as good as many of the kids he grew up playing against, was recruited on account of one thing that made him different: an excellence in academics.
But he wasn’t always buried in school work. In fact, Seaforth didn’t focus on grades until a high school teacher pulled him aside one day to strike him with truth: He wouldn’t be moving onto college if he didn’t have the grades, no matter how good of an athlete he was.
Taking it almost as a challenge, Seaforth grew academically and found himself applying for colleges, he said, never forgetting the conversation he had with the teacher who changed his perspective.
“I was one of the kids I mentor now. I know what they are going through,” he said. “My brother was one of those kids. My sister was one of those kids. It’s in my heart to give back.”
Gaskin, who said he didn’t have great grades during his freshman year, has turned things around and will be going into his final year at Tech with a 3.3 GPA, partly due to the support of the No Ceilings program.
As he nears graduation, Gaskin said college is in sight. So far, he pictures himself at a school like Springfield College, where he toured with members of No Ceilings.
As part of the program, Seaforth makes all students apply to five colleges whether or not they plan to attend college.
But No Ceilings doesn’t just focus on athletics, academics, or aspiring dreams for the future. Students learn life skills they can apply wherever in their life, Seaforth said.
Lynn Classical High School senior, Chase Buono, who has been in the program since he was a freshman, has learned how to dress and “how to be a better man,” he said.
During a visit to Springfield College through No Ceilings, Buono said there were instructions on how to prepare for an interview and how to act professionally.
“Tony has helped me show a whole perspective I would have never known,” he said.
Seaforth has also taught Buono to think about others.
“Before freshman year, I thought I was the best at everything,” Buono said. “He has helped me learn that to get to where you need to be, you can’t be selfish and help people at the same time.”
The free safety and running back said he plans to play football in college.
Like Buono, Gaskin said there has been a great emphasis on goals to take you through the ceiling in life.
“He teaches us that life is like a ladder,” Gaskin said. “If we want to reach the top, which is our goals, we must climb the first step, which is the task in front of us right now. As we make small steps, we learn that it’s all for the grand prize at the top.”
He said the program is like no other in Lynn.
Currently, No Ceilings only works with students in four sports with the number of athletes from each school varying. As the new school year approaches, he awaits approval from the school department to expand the program to include more students and teams.
After being selected as the recipient for the 2017 Celebrate Literacy Day & Excellence in Literacy Award, Seaforth said the award will provide funds for the program to allow for another full-time or part-time dedicated staff member, which will make the program more effective and sustainable for the years to come.
The 35-year-old Lynn resident is the only staff member, which puts a strain on Seaforth’s ability to effectively help athletes at all three high schools in the city, he said.
He will be accepting the award at the VNA Rooftop on 200 Market Street on August 30. Tickets can be purchased at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/2017-celebrate-literacy-day-event-tickets-36421787547.
Seaforth, who acts not just as a mentor, but older brother for these student-athletes, said the city is filled with talent and that so much can be done through a little support.
“Now it is just about keeping the program moving forward,” he said.