Since 1993, kids from Brookline as well as 20 other neighboring towns have been able to participate in sports clinics, camps, and competitions with the Brookline-based organization Viking Sports. This organization is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, and co-owner LeRoy Watkins has big visions for their future.

A self-described entrepreneur, Watkins, a father of three, began working for Viking Sports as a coach in 2007. He soon worked his way up to managing business development and eventually bought the company in 2011 along with co-owner Zachary Lerman. The role eventually grew from merely being his day job to his life’s passion. “It began as a role that I can build my business experience through,” he said. “Then as a dad, I put my kids through the Viking classes and saw it from the perspective of a parent and how great this was for kids. They’re getting out and staying active, and we’re engaging with the community.”

The enthusiasm in his voice is palpable as he explains the impact that sports had on himself from a young age. “Sports has played a very important part in my life,” he said. “I come from a large family of four kids. My dad coached all of us growing up. I met a lot of lifelong friends on the soccer field. I was fortunate enough to get a soccer scholarship for Northeastern. Sports helped finance my academic career. It taught me discipline. It taught me focus. It taught me how to persevere, how to work hard.” He even utilizes the athletic skills he had cultivated in his school days as a business owner and as a boss to over 50 employees at Viking. “I encourage my employees,” he continued. “Work hard, Stay focused, Stay on task. If you work hard, you get rewarded. All of this — I learned from sports.”

In this day and age, with the overwhelming presence of digital devices, Watkins believe sports are more important than ever for kids today as a way to both release their pent-up physical energy and learn skills that iPhones and iPads cannot necessarily teach them. Viking Sports even forbids the use of electronic devices at their camps. “I think sports is important because there is a social aspect where kids are interacting both physically and emotionally with other kids,” he said. “They learn so many important life skills like sharing, teamwork, and perseverance. They are learning structure — how to operate in a group setting.” Watkins acknowledges that they occasionally run into issues with kids and their parents related to competition. “Kids love winning and hate losing,” he continued. “The question we get from a lot of parents is ‘How competitive is this?’” While competitive sports can become a dicey issue when working with kids, Wakins does not want to necessarily dismiss the importance of competition while trying to make their activities fun for kids of all abilities. “Kids become desensitized to winning and losing after a while,” he said. “It starts to all become about the next game. We do give everyone a trophy, but we also make sure that the kids that win know that they won.”

Watkins has seen his organization’s impact firsthand. Countless children who were campers, later became counselors-in-training (CITS), junior coaches, and eventually coaches. Watkins has a broad vision for the future of Viking Sports as he hopes to extend the organization’s influence out into the greater community. “My vision of Viking for the future is more towns in more states,” he said. “I’d like to do a lot more community events like 5Ks, events that can bring people together and then grow over time.” Regardless of his plans, Watkins hopes that Viking Sports can continue their service to local families and community by providing an active, safe and, plain fun environment where kids can simply be kids. “At the end of the day, we just want the kids to roll around in the dirt, kick balls around and have some fun,” Watkins said. “They’ll forget that they lost a soccer game in a week because they are busy having so much fun.”

By Alicia Landsberg