Posted 6 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021

UW-La Crosse football player Rusty Murphy was worried about the impact of COVID-19 on local K-12 student-athletes. So, he co-founded Rising Athletes, a non-profit that strives to help youth sports programs by organizing, creating and sustaining opportunities for K-12 students.

UW-La Crosse student creates non-profit benefitting K-12 athletes

COVID-19 affected athletes in many ways — an abrupt end to competition, canceled and shortened seasons, fewer conference and national championships, and more.

But UW-La Crosse football player Rusty Murphy was more worried about the impact on local K-12 student-athletes.

“The biggest thing was realizing that, due to effects of COVID-19, a ton of kids were going to miss out on playing youth sports, which in my life were the most important thing for me growing up,” says Murphy, a standout senior linebacker for the Eagles. “I knew that post-pandemic youth sports would lead to inequality in opportunities for young people to participate in sports and wanted to be a part of the solution to that problem.”

So, Murphy and La Crosse parent Katie Leaver co-founded Rising Athletes, a non-profit aimed at inspiring and motivating K-12 athletes. The organization strives to help youth sports programs by organizing, creating and sustaining opportunities for them.

Murphy was involved in football, basketball, baseball and powerlifting while attending Cudahy High School. He knows their importance and impact.

“Athletics have meant the world to me ever since I was a young kid.” explains Murphy. “Whether it was little league baseball, elementary recreation league basketball or flag football, after I had my first interaction in team sports settings, I was hooked.”

The double major in marketing and economics says athletic participation has kept him on the right path — from elementary school through college.

“Sports kept me busy before and after school, drove me to get good grades, treat others with respect, collaborate as a team, and taught me time management skills,” notes Murphy.

He says the life lessons athletics gave him are numerous and priceless. Athletics impact everyone, Murphy says.


Murphy has been an outstanding contributor for the Eagles, earning All-WIAC First Team honors in 2019. CREDIT: Jim Garvey

“Whether it's one season of testing out a sport you might be interested in, or playing a sport you love for 20 years, there's bound to be a positive impact through the experiences you have and the relationships you make,” he says.

Murphy credits co-founder Leaver for building and growing Rising Athletes. He says as a parent of students in La Crosse schools, she brings insights on community needs and strategies to help students.

Murphy says Rising Athletes is already making an impact.

“We have aided teams in getting overall costs lowered or even erased and helped fund scholarships for different programs,” he says. “We look to continue this type of work in a more consistent matter the more we grow.”

Murphy sees his UWL education landing him and a job in business after he graduates in May. Once he’s established in his career and underway with family aspirations, he hopes for Rising Athlete’s continued growth, eventually becoming profitable enough to support him there full-time.

“I would like to be an entrepreneur, starting my own company, and getting to a point where I can work on Rising Athletes more hours per week and in a larger region to impact more kids,” he says. 

Rising Athletes: The non-profit organization’s mission is to inspire and motivate K-12 athletes and youth sports programs by organizing, creating, and sustaining opportunities for them. Rising Athletes strives to build bridges between the community and young athletes.

See more at Rising Athletes’ website: https://www.risingathletes.org/resources

Who is Rusty Murphy?

  • Cudahy High School graduate where he was in football, basketball, baseball and powerlifting.
  • UWL senior linebacker, majoring in marketing and economics.
  • UWL football success includes: 2018 All-Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) Honorable Mention Team; 2019 All-WIAC First Team; D3football.com Team of the Week; WIAC Scholastic Honor Roll; four-year letter winner

Did you know? Murphy has scored a pair of game-winning overtime touchdowns on fumble returns.

Read more stories from the December eLantern.