Rich Helm's father was a coach, his five siblings were athletes and his mother was a loyal fan. He didn't have much choice but to become an athlete himself--even if it seemed unlikely. Says Helm, 47, "I was a tiny athlete with all the odds against me, but I continued in sports until I finally did grow."
Helm grew not only in size, but also in conviction. While operating his own sales business, he volunteered his time for 20 years to coach youth wrestling in his Wayne Township, New Jersey, hometown. A move to Florida gave him the opportunity to finally turn his passion for coaching into his business--with the purchase of an amateur sports franchise, i9 Sports, in 2003.
Helm proceeded cautiously. He had been burned before by a franchise that offered very little support, he was i9 Sports' first franchisee, and he was at a transitional stage in his life. "It really wasn't the right time in my life to [buy a franchise]," Says Helm, "but there was something deep down that was driving me to give it a shot."
Making the commitment, Helm recruited volunteer coaches, set up registration and organized four sports teams in Tampa Bay--flag football, lacrosse, wrestling and soccer--all from his apartment. Today, he has 400 participants aged 6 to 18 and 42 volunteer coaches. Sales for 2004 were over $60,000, and projected 2005 sales are more than $150,000. Most important, Helm has already made an impact. He remembers seeing a boy jumping up and down with excitement, exhilarated after scoring his first-ever touchdown. Says Helm, "That was important to me, because it told me we were doing the right thing."
Helm envisions further expansion and a day when his now year-old son will become a little athlete. Says Helm proudly, "He's going to be in everything."