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Founder of Sports Outreach Northwest combines his two loves to educate youth.

COURTESY PHOTO - Eric Nyborg, founder and Executive Director of Sports Outreach Northwest, talks to a group of kids at a football clinic last year.
Eric Nyborg is on

a mission.

The Hillsboro man and youth leader has taken on the challenge of teaching and mentoring kids through sports as a means to advance his faith.

"I love sports and I love the gospel," said Nyborg. "And with this work I get to combine the two and do so with my family."

Nyborg is the founder and executive director of Sports Outreach Northwest, which through generous sponsorship offers a slate of free clinics to children ages 8 to 14 in sports such as baseball, football, basketball and soccer. While emphasizing technique, sportsmanship, and good old competitive spirit, it also offers kids in Oregon, Washington and Montana exposure to the gospel and does so with unbridled enthusiam.

Still a part-time youth leader, Nyborg spoke with a number of influential local sports personalities who share Nyborg's passion for Christianity prior to starting SONW, including former Portland State University All-American and NFL quarterback Neil Lomax and the Portland Trail Blazers' long-time chaplain and founder of Beyond Victory Ministry, Al Egg, among others. And what did he find? A thirst for what he had and wanted to offer.

"I spoke to a number of people before I got this going, saw a need and took it from there," Nyborg said.

SONW was founded in 2011, and until recently, it was something Nyborg juggled between work and family obligations. But this year, he's devoted his full attention to the organization and is steadfast in his efforts to mentor local youths.

And it's working.

The Hillsboro native said participation has steadily increased since its inception eight years ago, and his clinics now average between 70 and 150 kids per class. They've also — though focusing solely on Oregon this year — done clinics in Bonney Lake, Wash., and Missoula, Mont.

"Our registrations are always really high, but you never really know how many will show up," he said. "If we charged money, we'd probably get more concrete numbers, but when it's free, people don't feel an obligation if something comes up."

Clinics include check-in, where participants receive a free T-shirt; warm-ups; a series of coaching stations where kids get skills training designed to educate young athletes on the basics of playing sports; a short midday gospel message; then a barbecue to end the festivities.

COURTESY PHOTO - Kids huddle with coaches at a Sports Outreach Northwest basketball camp held at Century High School earlier this year.
In addition to the clinics, SONW also offers chapel services to local area high school and professional sports organizations.

The organization frames everything in what Nyborg calls the "Three C's" — coaches, clinics and chapels.

"We do Bible study with coaches every Friday morning," said Nyborg. "It's great. We've been doing it since 2011."

Sports has always been a big part of Nyborg's life, but the church didn't come along until later. A 1988 graduate of Hillsboro High School, the former quarterback hit "rock bottom" not long after, falling into a common trap of youthful temptations.

"I was kind of your stereotypical athlete, getting out there doing things like drinking, chasing girls, all the stupid stuff young people get wrapped up in," said Nyborg. "And I basically hit rock bottom in my life."

With the help and counseling of a couple individuals, Nyborg became a Christian and "dove in with two feet," as he put it. He attended Multnomah University in Portland, where he graduated with a degree in biblical studies and pastoral ministry, felt a calling in ministry, and moved to Banks, where he planted his first church with an emphasis on expository preaching, evangelism and discipleship. He has also served on a mission's board, counseled church planters and held various church staff positions.

From there, Nyborg desired to pare down his pastoral obligations and focus more on evangelism. He spoke to his wife, Jennifer, about the prospect, he said, and she asked him a simple question: "What do you love?"

That's how the Sports Outreach Network began.

COURTESY PHOTO - Kids line up for a drill at a Sports Outreach Northwest baseball clinic held at Ron Tonkin Field earlier this year.Now, nearly eight years later, SONW is offering more clinics and more sports, with this year's soccer clinic being the first of its kind for the organization. Much of SONW's money comes via sponsorships with local companies like Rychart Construction and Elite Bookkeeping Services, but it also generates revenue via fundraising efforts like its annual spring fundraiser, which is a free barbecue designed to promote the organization and spark further donation.

"We're still not fully funded, so we count pennies every month," said Nyborg.

Despite his heavy involvement, Nyborg doesn't do this on his own. The proprietor has a five-person board of directors and uses upwards of 80 to 100 volunteers and coaches that donate time throughout the year, and Jennifer and the Nyborgs' five children happily do their part.

"It's very much a family-driven organization," Nyborg said. "My wife, four girls and son, they really help out with the clinics. My girls will help with the check-ins, and my son, being an athlete, helps with the coaching. It's been neat, especially as they've gotten older."

Oregon has one of the lowest rates of religiosity in the United States, and Nyborg acknowledged that he's gotten some pushback at times for what he is trying to do by combining evangelism with athletics. But he understands that it comes with the climate, he said, and he appreciates that the organization is mostly avoided negativity.

"The Northwest is not an easy place to do ministry," he said. "My ministry in the Bible Belt would be a lot bigger. There hasn't been any real bad reaction here, but you can feel it."

And what's next for SONW?

"Were hoping to build a facility, like a YMCA-like community center that we could regularly hold clinics and have things like "basketball night,'" said Nyborg. "Then add on some club teams and create more opportunity with kids and their parents to learn sports and the benefits of them, and to spread the gospel. That's our mission."

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