Founder of Saints sports program will be inducted into Saugerties Sports Hall of Fame

Rick Andreassen and Saints

For Saugerties Sports Hall of Fame 2017 inductee Rick Andreassen, athletics have been a part of his life for all of his life. He grew up in a family with eleven kids, and he works in ministry and physical education with Saints of Florida, which he founded two decades ago.

Rick Andreassen grew up in Saugerties as the second youngest sibling. While there was a hoop in the family’s yard, he reckons he might have been the first kid to play organized basketball, which he did as a forward on both the JV and varsity Sawyers.

Before attending Saugerties High, Andreassen, like his siblings, went to the former St. Mary of the Snow for elementary and middle school. As a Sawyer, Andreassen played basketball, football and track. On the latter, he excelled at the shotput and the discus; on the gridiron, he played right tackle on offense and middle guard on defense.

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“There was a play in football where if the end to the right of me stepped back a foot it made me an eligible receiver,” he explained. “They had a play called ‘Rick’s play,’ and I would go out for a pass. There was one game where they threw me a touchdown pass as a right tackle. Everyone was jumping on me in the end zone.”

The key to that story and so many others Andreassen tells is about a sense of camaraderie and teamwork. It was an important ingredient in his home life, and it’s become an important ingredient in just about everything he’s done since leaving Saugerties for Florida just a year after graduating from Saugerties High in 1976.

Florida beckoned, in part, thanks to memories of sun-soaked vacations. “Our family had vacationed here in Florida when I was growing up,” said Andreassen. “Surprisingly, with eleven kids. We piled in.”

Andreassen said he moved after arranging for job interviews with the now-defunct Eastern Airlines to become a flight attendant. “Quite often I found myself marching to the beat of a different drum, and I was walking a walk I was comfortable with,” said Andreassen. “I definitely was not escaping Saugerties, and I didn’t end up here [in Florida] on spring break and never go home. I planned it, prepared it, and it was methodical for a young man. I sold the Harley-Davidson and bought a trailer that I towed behind my car. I lived in that trailer as an 18-year old kid. I’d already sent a month’s rent down and I pulled in to the camp spot in Hollywood, Florida.”

The hiring process for Eastern took around nine months, Andreassen said, so he took a job as a lifeguard to tide him over. And by the time Eastern was ready to make him an offer, he was enjoying lifeguarding too much to leave. Moving to Florida on his own was not without its challenges, but Andreassen said that not even a bit of foul weather could send him back to New York.

“For what it’s worth, the first year I was here Hurricane David hit,” Andreassen said. “Everybody in South Florida had to evacuate. I was here six months, and with a little trailer like that I had to hook it back up to my car and start going to where I was going to be until the hurricane passed. Just for a second I thought, ‘Am I supposed to keep going north back to Saugerties?’ But this is home for me. Saugerties always has my heart, but this is home.”

For eleven years, Andreassen also tended bar in Fort Lauderdale, a major destination for college kids. Rather than immerse himself in the party atmosphere, Andreassen decided he’d rather spend his spare time helping other kids.

“The greater end of it was, because I had six older brothers and three older sisters, I always felt incredibly loved as a little boy,” he said. “When I moved here and was lifeguarding, I remember getting off on a break and I called the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America Association, and I asked if I could get a little brother, which would be a boy without a dad. I asked specifically for a minority, and I got a little boy. And I stayed a big brother for over 20 years. You commit to a year at a time. I had a kid for seven years, and he moved away. And then I had another boy. My desire to work with children was started through that one child and committing to them. Being a little brother to so many I knew the value of a good person’s input in my life, and I wanted to give that back.”

Andreassen began going to a church and affirming his relationship with God. That relationship gave him a chance to first teach Sunday school, and then begin volunteering with kids on Monday afternoons where “Mr. Rick’s Club” helped keep kids active and physically fit. He worked at the school as a physical education teacher, athletic director and children’s pastor.

Then, on August 27, 1997, came the Saints.

“I was on an airplane flying back from Saugerties and I looked out the window and God spoke the words ‘Homeschool P.E.’” Andreassen said. “I wrote it down, and I have the book today I wrote it in. When I got back here I looked into homeschooling, and there were no physical education programs anywhere. God said it on the plane and I responded to that. I set up a little demo sports program for homeschool kids. Named it Saints.” The program started with Andreassen and two volunteers. They had 18 kids that first year.

“Our goal and our prayer is to honor God, co-labor with parents, and bless your children by encouraging them in who they are in Jesus Christ,” reads part of Saints of Florida’s official mission statement. “We accomplish this using the platform of sports.”

Though it had started humbly, Saints of Florida quickly grew to 16 facilities in Florida. It also has a home in Texas, where it’s run by Andreassen’s old Saugerties High classmate and member of the Saugerties Sports Hall of Fame, Steve Shaffer. Elsewhere in the United States, Saints has facilities in Sacramento and Las Vegas. There are branches in Guatemala, Zambia and Kenya. Andreassen has personally visited each new location to help get the ball rolling, often adapting the program to fit the surroundings.

“They don’t have flat concrete basketball or tennis courts. Some of those things we take for granted are nonexistent in some developing countries,” said Andreassen. “So we set it up in a way to use what’s available. Flag football in fields, frisbee, kickball. Some of those things where it’s more developing-world accommodating. What we do is partner with organizations that are feeding children, clothing them and educating them.

“We bring in joy and laughter, and through Saints we give them a childhood they might not have had. They get to be kids. They laugh and play. In the bible it says that laughter is good medicine. A child should be able to laugh and play, and in some ways it’s the last thing on the radar because of other necessities. We bring in a program that lets kids be kids.”

For the kids, the rewards of Saints of Florida (and beyond) are apparent. But Andreassen said he gets so much out of the program, too.

“I can’t even put it into words,” he said. “It’s unbelievable. Games are cross-cultural. In most of those countries I don’t speak their language. But with sports you can communicate. It’s the universal language of love communicated through these games. It’s every dream come true for me. Every prayer answered. And I get to do it all day, every day. People say, ‘Do you have any kids?’ and I say, ‘Yeah, about 10,000.’”

Andreassen said he’s looking forward to heading up from Florida for the induction ceremony in April, in part because he’ll get to see family. “It really means a lot,” he said. “I wouldn’t trade a day of my childhood. There was so much love in our home. There’s not a phone call I have with my brothers and sisters where I don’t thank them for being a great big brother or sister. They’ve seen what I do with my life, but they created that desire.”

The annual Saugerties Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony and dinner on Saturday, April 8 will be held at Diamond Mills, with doors opening at 5 p.m., a cocktail and meet-and-greet hour from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m., and the ceremony beginning immediately after. Tickets, which include some drinks and dinner, are $30 and can be reserved by e-mailing Mike Hasenbalg (mikehasenbalg@yahoo.com).

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