Matt Hanna Has a Winning Strategy for Supporting Baltimore City Student Athletes

His organization Next One Up provides year-round athletic, academic, and mentoring resources for kids from middle school through college.
—Photography by Benjamin Tankersley

Matt Hanna knows what it takes to succeed. A talented athlete and natural born leader, he captained his Johns Hopkins University lacrosse team to several NCAA championships. After college, he brought that commitment to excellence into the classroom, teaching middle and high school history classes for 13 years, as well as coaching lacrosse and other sports.

He spent the last five years of his teaching career at Baltimore City’s Cristo Rey Jesuit High School. But Hanna was troubled by the lack of after-school and weekend opportunities available to his students. So he decided to create his own.

“When I see something that’s broken, I don’t wait for other people to fix it,” explains Hanna. “So I started a weekend program that was just a chance for some of the young men that I coach to meet me at a park to work out and talk about college and their career plans.”

Gradually, Coach Hanna’s pick up games and informal chats with his athletes began to have a profound impact on their lives, motivating Hanna to found Next One Up in 2009. The program is named for the poem by Marc Kelly Smith that encourages every person to “pull the next one up” the mountain.

Next One Up supports promising student athletes in Baltimore City who face challenges in their homes, neighborhoods, or schools. It addresses these challenges through creative individual solutions, and partners with each student, providing year-round athletic, academic, and mentoring resources from middle school through college.

“We bring in 25 young men starting in seventh grade. We’re not looking for the best athletes or students; we want to know—how badly do you want it? We’re looking for the kid that’s going to show up on Sunday mornings at 9 o’clock with no excuses, ready to work. We have alumni who work for us, so we understand what these students need. A lot of it is love and discipline.”

Next One Up’s playbook for improving lives has proven to be a winning strategy, evidenced by its participants’ 100 percent high school graduation rate and alumni success stories. This fall, Next One Up celebrates the opening of its first dedicated space—a 14,000-square foot facility at Belvedere Square, dubbed “Base Camp.”

“We’re calling it ‘Base Camp’ because of the idea of climbing the mountain,” says Hanna. “Base Camp is the gathering point for the climb. This facility will have everything we want in one place: a weight room, kitchen, academic spaces, and maker spaces. It will even have a small barbershop that one of our graduates will run. It’s really bigger than I imagined. That’s because I have an awesome team and there’s so many amazing kids I get to work with every day.”