In its quest to uncover the next Cristiano Ronaldo or Mark Messier, a new digital platform may have forever changed the sports debate landscape as well as a local school’s athletic and fitness future.
Athlete Training Club has developed an algorithm that regardless of age, size, gender and sport, can quantifiably determine the best pound-for-pound athlete. On Monday the tech startup aims to do so when it launches its 20-week “Combine Challenge,” an online athletic competition in which student-athletes nationwide will face off in a host of physical fitness events ranging from squats to sprints.
The combine just may uncover a potential Messier, the Rangers legend who’s representing the Bronx’s International School of Liberal Arts and is one of nearly two dozen celebrities and pro athletes who nominated schools throughout the country for ATC’s contest.
ATC’s long-term mission reaches beyond discovering the future G.O.A.T. or settling any Reddit-board arguments. It hopes to level the fitness playing fields — especially in inner city schools — through education and resources, part of the reason it bills itself as the “SAT of Fitness.”
“The biggest hindrance that most kids have to improving is a lack of information about themselves, their training, their diet and nutrition,” ATC co-founder Ben Aronson says. “Our goal to breaking down these barriers is to give athletes and their coaches more information so they can make better decisions.”
There’s also $25,000 in total prize money earmarked for athletic program funding on the line.According to nonprofit Up2US, $3.5 billion was cut from schools’ sports budgets between 2009 to 2011. If current trends continue, an estimated 27 percent of U.S. public high schools won’t have any sports by 2020, a staggering stat considering student athletes are four times more likely to attend college and have 40 percent higher test scores., according to Up2US.
How the Combine Challenge works
Aronson’s obsession with the “pound for pound” debate generated from his days as a high school wrestler, where strength disproportionalities among the weight classes led to unanswerable locker room debates. After college, he and a team created what they call a “proprietary normalizing algorithm,” which can isolate raw athleticism from factors such as weight, height, age, even gender, and come up with a true “pound-for-pound” score.
“When you’re watching the NFL combine, there’s a good debate to be had whether the 300-pound lineman who ran a 5-flat 40 is more impressive than the back who ran a 4.2,” Aronson says. “That’s how we came about this 20-week challenge — to really measure this part of athleticism and pit different types of athletes against each other.”
ATC’s combine loosely resembles the NFL combine, but with a single weekly physical fitness test for participants, who will submit their results via video upload to be then verified and approved (or denied) by a team of ATC trainers, who will also provide performance feedback. Each week two $500 prizes will be awarded—one for the high school with the top-ranked athlete and a second $500 for the athletic program with the highest cumulative score.
A Stanley Cup legend lends his name
In the 1990s there were no apps measuring fitness levels, but for the 1994 Stanley Cup-winning Rangers, Messier says there were always two players at the top—Brian Leetch and Sergei Nemchinov. “Sergei was always our most fit player. Every year I tried every year to oust him but I could never do it,” Messier says.
Today the Rangers legend is actively involved with inner city kids in the Bronx, through his Inline-2-Ice program for youths to lending his name to ATC and ISLA. For Messier programs like ATC, that allow the students to participate regardless of socioeconomic factors, is another forward step to leveling playing fields.
“Access and opportunity are the two most important things we can do to get our kids moving in the Bronx and see what kind of athletes we have in the Bronx,” Messier says. “ATC strips away all social aspects, putting everyone at a level playing field. It’s just them and a test and they can compete with other kids. And I find that unique.”
ISLA Community School Director Frank Cutrone says any prize money won would go toward its newly revamped school aquatics program. But to have the opportunity for ISLA students — the majority of whom weren’t born in the U.S. — to participate against other students in the country, is a equally huge victory in the overall learning scheme.
“A model like ATC takes away any type of discriminatory categories, meaning for example, everyone doesn’t need to know basketball [or other sports],” Cutrone says. “This app opens up to everyone not just in a certain sport but can include any student who’s interested.”
And at the end of the Combine Challenge, what does Aronson expect ATC to determine?
“Over the next 20 weeks you’re going to see strength, power, quickness and endurance. Some of the people you are going to see — the most unexpected athletes — are going to be your top performers.”