Adam Schmitt loves sports. 

“If I had to give a percentage,” the Granville Middle School student said, “at least 25% of my life is sports.”

Schmitt, currently in eighth grade, said most of the friends he’s made have come through sports. He grew up playing and coaching alongside his three brothers and his parents. 

And now, he’s using sports to give back to his community through In The Zone, a project developed for the Experiential Learner Mastermind course at GMS. 

The course, an elective led by English teacher James Browder, is designed to inspire students to make their communities better. 

“I asked the superintendent, ‘What if we do a whole class around this where we tell kids that what they care about matters, and then give them time and space in the day to be a changemaker?’” Browder said. “And it’s been insane. I mean, it’s just been super cool.”

Schmitt’s project, In The Zone, is “basically a Goodwill for sports,” he explained. He created a shed, located in Raccoon Valley Park in Granville, that serves as a shared storage space for sports equipment. Residents with unused or old sports equipment can donate it to the shed, and folks who can’t afford to buy the gear brand-new — a sometimes-prohibitive cost that often makes sports inaccessible to low-income families — can use it as needed. 

“Whatever I got had to be passed down to all my brothers, and most of it was still in really good condition,” Schmitt said. “So I figured, if most two-kid families have equipment that they only use twice and it’s still in really good condition, then why not? Why can’t other people use it for free? It’s not necessary to pay $300 for a bat that you’re only going to use for a year.”

The shed sits on a structure once meant for a porta-potty, but it sat vacant for more than 20 years. When Schmitt first arrived, it was essentially a cube, with one side missing.

“We had to put the wall, put on the door, and then build shelves and furnish the inside,” Schmitt said.

Schmitt needed additional funding to help bring his idea to fruition, so he applied for a grant from the Michael Dean Gibbs Foundation. Michael Dean Gibbs, a former resident of Granville, passed away from Lou Gehrig’s disease — also known as ALS or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis — in 2018, and his family created the foundation in his honor. Among the family is Mariah Gibbs, Michael’s sister-in-law and Schmitt’s kindergarten teacher.

The spring rolled into summer, and Schmitt hadn’t gotten the grant yet. The class had ended, but his heart was still invested in the project. Schmitt spent his summer on Zoom calls with the foundation pitching his plan. 

“It was very definitely nerve-wracking because I’ve never been a part of anything like that before,” Schmitt recalled. “Mr. Browder told me, ‘Hey, the class is over. If you want to just cut it off here, we can just cut it off.’ But I said no. And, I mean, here we are.”

Schmitt received a $1,500 grant from the foundation in the fall of 2023, and immediately got to work building. Some of the money went towards construction costs, but much of it went towards purchasing sports equipment for the shed. 

Though he purchased some equipment, Schmitt said most of the equipment — baseball gloves and bats, helmets, shin guards and cleats — has come from local donors.

In his grant proposal, Schmitt committed to taking care of the shed, keeping it stocked and clean until he graduates high school in 2028. And hopefully, Schmitt said, one of his younger brothers will take over running the shed after that. 

Schmitt has already been in talks with the Granville Recreation District, but he plans to reach out to all of the local recreational districts in Licking County for their help advertising. 

“My favorite part is seeing how it changed from just an idea to a whole shed full of equipment that’s going to help the community,” Schmitt said. “The community that is willing to donate all of their hard-earned money to help other people play sports.” 

Browder worked with Schmitt to develop his project, bringing it from the idea phase inside a classroom into reality.  

“There’s a clip of one of his Zoom calls that I recorded where he’s talking to the Michael Dean Gibbs Foundation, and he said, ‘I can’t imagine some kid not being able to go out and play a sport that I get to play and love so much just because they don’t have access to equipment,’” Browder said. “Those are the moments that I hope kids are having when we’re sending them out into the world and we’re giving them the opportunity and space to do something about the things that they care about.” 

Browder’s Experiential Learner Mastermind class has helped students develop projects across Licking County, and encourages students to approach issues with curiosity, creativity, philanthropy and entrepreneurship. 

As a result of the class, Granville Middle School students have developed plantable journals made entirely from recycled materials, created a business for healthy dog treats, and helped place free and accessible menstrual products in several Granville restaurants.  

Emmet Anderson writes for, the nonprofit news organization of Denison University’s Journalism program, which is funded by the Mellon Foundation and donations from readers.