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Champs’ Management Aiming To ‘Create A Road Map’ For Local Youth Athletics

Any true Penn Stater knows and loves the popular downtown bar Champs. However, many are unaware of Champs’ continuous effort to sponsor and support youth athletics.

Champs Downtown owner and Penn State class of 2004 alum Dante Lucchesi made it his mission to help local youth learn and grow as athletes by sponsoring league basketball tournaments and travel middle school basketball teams.

Lucchesi first opened Champs briefly in 2015 and then reopened officially in 2017 after some remodeling and renovations. Since the reopening, Champs has always tried to find new ways to engage with the community and give back to State College.

“We’ve always been very conscious of our brand and our image and providing a really fun, safe time for anyone that wants to come in,” Lucchesi said. “I think part of our responsibility then is also to be an active part of the community and try to give back.”

As a father of two boys engaged in sports, Lucchesi saw the opportunity to give the community a taste of youth athletics, benefitting not only parents and locals, but the kids of State College, too.

“All the partners at Champs, we’re all local and we all have children,” Lucchesi said. “So, for me, it just made the most sense to back up sports because my kids play sports, and I think sports are a great way to teach kids… Whether it be life lessons, discipline, whatever it is, if you’re a coachable kid, you usually grow up to be an employable adult, and so that’s where I’ve put a lot of my focus.”

From being a part of the management team at Champs and being a dad, he sought to merge the two to leave a lasting impact on State College youth athletics by coaching and sponsoring travel middle school basketball teams and AAU basketball tournaments.

In 2022, Lucchesi gave coaching a shot and has grown into youth sports ever since. As the league continues to expand, he’s even connected with and recruited past and current Penn State men’s basketball players to join the efforts of expanding his mission.

“My son is on the team, so it gives me the opportunity to coach and also sponsor the team,” Lucchesi said. “So, we’re kind of giving back, and we’re giving the opportunity to all the kids on the team to try to have a great experience with youth sports. We’re very proud to be able to bring that to the community.”

Due to COVID-19, there wasn’t a lot of interest in youth sports, according to Lucchesi. He, along with Champs, saw that and knew they wanted to help rebuild youth basketball in the area and bring the community back together.

Last fall, Lucchesi and Champs sponsored an entire junior basketball league with roughly 400 kids involved in the program. Champs raised the sponsorship funds by hosting a two-day summer clinic that was reasonably priced to give any kid at any age the chance to meet with and learn from past Penn State hoops alumni.

Lucchesi partnered with former Penn State men’s basketball forward John Harrar and his The Basketball Tournament team to share valuable basketball skills with kids at the clinic.

“They brought so much energy to the clinic when we did it last year,” Lucchesi said. “Everyone was having fun… When you do any of these things it’s about attitude and effort. Getting the kids to have fun and work hard. Sometimes you get one or the other, but when you achieve both, then you’re winning. You’re leaving the kids better than before.”

Lucchesi’s main goal for advocating for youth athletics, specifically basketball, is to generate future young adults who can take what they’ve learned and apply it to the rest of their lives on and off the court.

“We’re really trying to create a roadmap for development for these kids,” Lucchesi said. “You know, try to offer them all the programming possible and give them that direction so they can develop these skills and develop some continuity throughout all of that.”

Since Champs’ initial involvement, the positive feedback from the community and social media motivates Lucchesi and his team to continue the efforts and keep expanding their advocacy for youth basketball.

“Community engagement is really important for us,” Lucchesi said. “The plan is to continue and try to see where this goes and how we can grow it. It’s been a really positive experience so far. For me, for my family, and I’m hoping everyone I coach shares the same feelings.”

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About the Author

Evan Halfen

Evan Halfen is a junior broadcast journalism major from Newark, DE, and is one of Onward State's associate editors. Evan loves all things Penn State, tailgating, being loud, just about any beach, and his puppies, Butterscotch and Wentzy. You can direct all your tips, roasts, and jokes to his Instagram: @evan.halfen or email: [email protected]

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