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Youth sports advocate Anthony Isabelli

Anthony Isabelli

Anthony Isabelli

He’s the manager of digital marketing for the adult division of U.S. Soccer. He also is the U.S. Midwest regional trustee with the Italian National Olympic Committee.

And he’s well-known in the Chicago-area Italian-American community as the founder and president of Sportivo Academy, a non-profit organization that provides introductory sports development programs primarily for Italian-American youths in the area.

Isabelli says Sportivo, which he founded in 2008, “uses the universal passion for sports in a way to bring local Italian-American youth, coaches and mentors together to not only develop athletic and personal skills, but to help develop Italian cultural awareness and encourage participation in contributing to the future growth of the culture.”

Another hat Isabelli dons is that of a visionary.

Building on the success of Sportivo Academy’s soccer, boxing and track and field programs, Isabelli has been negotiating with SS Lazio Basket and Lega Serie A Basket — the Italian professional league equivalent of the NBA — to co-host a basketball camp in the Chicago area that would open the door to a sports cultural exchange program.

In particular, Isabelli has been working closely with one of the most popular players in Italian basketball history. Abdul Jeelani, an original member of the Dallas Mavericks who joined the NBA in 1980 and enjoyed a successful six-year career in the Italian pro leagues and also played in Spain for four year.

“He was a major star there,” Isabelli noted. “He goes back over to Italy and he’s like a hero there. He agrees with what Sportivo is all about.”

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This culture exchange program would enable Italian-American youths from Sportivo to, for example, go to Rome and learn about Italian culture, take guided tours, etc. On the flip side, kids from Italy would be given the opportunity to visit Chicago and learn about American culture.

But first thing’s first. SS Lazio Basket has agreed to partner with Sportivo to host the camp and exchange program, but that agreement is dependent on developing significant interest from the Chicago area Italian-American community. That’s why Isabelli is focused like a laser beam on building up participation in the camp, which is key to getting the culture exchange program off the ground.

The free camp, scheduled to be held late this summer at the Casa Italia in Stone Park, is open to boys and girls of all skill levels ages 8 to 15. Registration began the week of May 11. To register, go online to www.sportivoacademy.com. Initially, the camp will be one day, but Isabelli said it could be extended and held on an ongoing monthly or weekly basis if there’s enough interest.

“We would ideally love to have a large group, like 50 kids, but 20 would be a good number to start off,” he said.

Although the camp is free, Isabelli is trying to get the word out to see what businesses would like to support it. In turn, camp sponsors and their businesses would be promoted on jerseys or banners at the camp.

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Basketball has become quite a popular sport in Italy, with several Italian natives currently playing in the NBA. Among them is Andrea Bargnani, a 7-foot power forward with the New York Knicks who was the first player selected in the 2006 NBA draft by the Toronto Raptors. Chicago Bulls fans will remember Marco Belinelli, who played for the club during the 2012-13 season; he is now with the San Antonio Spurs.

“You find more and more fans of the pro leagues there,” Isabelli said.

As U.S. Midwest regional trustee with the Italian National Olympic Committee, Isabelli has organized the U.S. Midwest youth track and field trials each year since 2010 for boys and girls age 11-13 of proven Italian decent. Those who make the Italian-American national youth team then travel to Italy to compete in the Italian Student Games, which this year are being held June 25 through July 1 in the Le Marche region of Italy.

This year’s tryouts were held at St. Ignatius College Prep in Chicago the second and third weekends of May. (Tryouts also are being held in New York and Los Angeles.)

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About Mike Sandrolini

Mike Sandrolini has been published in the Elmhurst Independent, Voyager Media, the Daily Herald, the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Bear Report. His stories and columns have been recognized for editorial excellence at regional, state and national newspaper contests over the years. He also has co-authored two books: "Bear With Me: A Family History of George Halas and the Chicago Bears" and "All the Good in Sports." His father, Raymond, is a native of Gaggio Montano, a small village around 30 miles southwest of Bologna.