'Overtime' for old sports gear

Beyond holding garage sales, spring cleaners donate, recycle.

If the garage is starting to get that musty locker-room look, maybe it's time to get rid of some of that old sports equipment.

But before adding those old golf clubs or that used volleyball to a landfill, consider putting the stuff in someone else's hands. You can sell it at a yard sale. Give it to a friend. Or donate it to charity. There's even a way to recycle those old dirty sneakers.

"Every product has a life span of two cycles at least. Or maybe three," says Mike May, spokesman for Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association International, in North Palm Beach, Fla. "You can always restring a tennis racket; you can always put a new shaft in a golf club. [And] the network is far more organized than it ever was" to get the goods to people who could really use it.

For example: The week before January's Super Bowl in San Diego, while most fans were concentrating on football, the National Football League was organizing a sports equipment and book collection from local schools.

Students collected several truckloads of footballs, baseballs, and other equipment that went to local programs for needy children.

"They were surprised by the number of donations," says Bruce Golden, spokesman for San Diego Youth and Community Services, a private charity. The payoff: "You get kids out participating in sports - actually get them out and doing things."

Many people already recycle sports equipment informally, passing it on to family members or friends. Increasingly, however, the sports world is offering new ways to get even more bang out of aging bats and balls.

One way is to take them to one of 500 Play It Again Sports franchises in the United States and Canada. The stores handle used as well as new equipment and encourage customers to come in and trade or sell their used goods. "It's a fantastic way for moms and dads and kids to stay involved in sports and not cost an arm and a leg," says Steve Murphy, director of Play It Again Sports, a division of Winmark Corp., in Minneapolis.

The better the item and its condition, the more customers can earn - either in cash or a trade-in. For example, a pair of $200 youth hockey skates might fetch $40 to $50, he explains, and then be resold by the store for $80 to $100.

Another avenue: Give the stuff away - and maybe earn a tax deduction. Local groups - the Boy Scouts or schools or adult leagues in needy neighborhoods - might be able to use the equipment directly. A recognized charity might find a good home for the gear, or sell it and use the proceeds to fund its programs.

A tip: Don't palm off junk to a charity. "If you wouldn't give it a friend or a relative, don't give it to Goodwill," says Christine Nyirjesy Bragale, spokeswoman for Goodwill Industries International in Bethesda, Md.

Some charities organize specific drives to help children overseas. Last summer, World Vision launched its "Get A Kick Out of Sharing" initiative. Over the next three years, it aims to collect 250,000 soccer balls for some of the world's poorest kids.

"They love soccer, but they don't have the equipment," says Karen Kartes, spokeswoman for World Vision, in Federal Way, Wash. "They end up making balls out of rags or plastic bags." So far, the charity has collected 3,000 balls and sent some 1,000 of them to Burundi and the Congo.

Some manufacturers are taking matters into their own hands. Hillerich & Bradsby, maker of the famed Louisville Slugger, cuts up its returned aluminum baseball and softball bats. The Louisville, Ky., company then polishes the pieces and resells them as $9.99 fishing-rod holders and $4.99 penholders.

"People have come up with all different uses," including permanent flower-holders in cemeteries, says Jay Bhatt, general manager for the company's technology products division.

Perhaps the most ambitious projects under way involve the last thing most people would consider recycling: athletic shoes. Since 1986, a group called Shoes for Africa in Boulder, Colo., has collected more than 20,000 running shoes for poor athletes and children around the world.

"They go anywhere they're needed," including Latin America and even Indian reservations and homeless shelters in the US, says Michael Sandrock, an author of several running books and the group's founder.

Of course, the shoes should be new or near new. If they don't pass the smell test, consider recycling them with Nike. The Beaverton, Ore., company has spent the past decade grinding up shoes and donating the material to make running tracks and other sports surfaces.

Now, it's teaming up with the National Recycling Coalition to expand its "Reuse-A-Shoe" program. Consumers are able to recycle whatever athletic shoes they have, even if they're not Nike brand.

"It's been overwhelming - the response," says Kate Krebs, executive director of the recycling coalition, in Washington, D.C. Although the program is starting with 25 or so recycling programs around the country, more than 150 others are clamoring to join. "Nike is the first apparel sports company to step out on this issue." Unlike other industries, she says, it's adopting a "life cycle" approach without the threat of government action.

Every time a recycling program collects 5,000 shoes, Nike arranges transportation to its recycling facility. The ground-up shoes produce three materials: a fluffy substance from the fabric of the upper shoe, a bouncy composite from the midsole, and rubber from the outsole. Firms use the materials to create everything from indoor soccer fields to basketball courts.

So far, consumers can't recycle athletic shoes as easily as newspaper and glass. In Portland, Ore., for example, they have to drop them off at one of four city or suburban locations. Curbside recycling of shoes "is not going to happen tomorrow," says Bruce Walker, Portland's manager of solid waste and recycling. "But it's something that's on the horizon."

Where to donate specific equipment

Since sporting-goods recycling is still in its infancy, most used gear can only be resold or donated to a local charity. But here are some other possibilities for specific products:

Soccer balls

World Vision Send new or gently used deflated balls via UPS to:

Get a Kick Out of Sharing International Distribution Center 210 Overlook Drive Sewickley, PA 15143.

Download two copies of the donation confirmation form from www.worldvision.org/soccerballs (click on "Yes, I want to help"), include one form in the package and e-mail the other to: mlane@worldvision.org.

Athletic shoes

Shoes for Africa Send new or gently used shoes to:

Shoes for Africa P.O. Box 2223 Boulder, CO 80306

Nike Reuse-A-Shoe
Send athletic shoes ONLY:

Nike Recycling Center c/o Reuse-A-Shoe 26755 SW 95th Ave. Wilsonville, OR 97070 (Nike will not accept shoes delivered with postage due)

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