FLOWOOD — Professional baseball players Chris Lotterhos and Chris Snopek hit home runs when they opened Performance Sports Academy in Flowood last year.
On Feb. 14, the company’s one-year anniversary, they had easily surpassed their goal of serving 750 families in the metro area. More than 800 families had enrolled at the first professional sports academy of its kind in Mississippi.
“These guys help athletes from three years old to professional baseball prospects,” said Chip Slack of Jackson, whose son, Noah, 4, attended Little Slugger Camp last summer. “They have a great program.”
So well, in fact, that Lotterhos and Snopek, who had taken a break to open the sports academy, were called back to the majors.
“We’re both going to spring training for the St. Louis Cardinals,” Lotterhos said. “Chris has a great shot at being with the big league team and I’ll more than likely be in AA or AAA unless I play very well.”
Lotterhos and Snopek met through Ole Miss baseball and family connections. In 1995, Lotterhos, a Memphis native, moved to Oxford, where he played baseball at the University of Mississippi for two years. Snopek, a Kentucky native, had graduated from Ole Miss, where he also played baseball, several years earlier. In 1997, Lotterhos transferred to Mississippi State University, where he played second base in the College World Series.
“Chris had a great career at Ole Miss and was drafted around 1995,” Lotterhos said. “He played in the majors with the Chicago White Sox and the Boston Red Sox, and played minor league with the Chicago Cubs last year. In 1999, the Cleveland Indians’ minor league team drafted me, but I had to get out of baseball for a while after I broke my leg. Then in 2000, I played with the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Cincinnati Reds AAA team.”
After that, Lotterhos returned to Memphis and worked at Dulin’s Sports Academy. Inspired by the prospect of opening a similar sports academy in Jackson, Lotterhos pitched the idea to Snopek, who already lived in Madison. Soon after, Lotterhos headed South.
After finding an ideal setup in a warehouse near Lakeland Drive, landing two major corporate sponsors, Cingular Wireless and HealthSouth, and garnering support — and referrals — from The Courthouse Racquet Club, Lotterhos and Snopek were ready to open the doors.
They recruited Meridian native and Texas Rangers relief pitcher Jay Powell as an off-season pitching instructor and Aaron Sledd, who played baseball with the Chicago Cubs and the Cincinnati Reds, as an in-season hitting instructor. Other baseball veterans that signed on include Chad Bradford of the Oakland A’s, Mickey Callaway of the Anaheim Angels and Jeremy Jackson of the New York Mets as pitching instructors; Chris Maloney and Barry Wesson of the Houston Astros as catching and outfield instructors, respectively; Scott Nichols of the St. Louis Cardinals as an instructor and a scout; and Ryan Ballard of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays as a catching instructor.
The most common request for students? Private instruction with a professional player, at a cost of about $1 a minute. “When we first opened, we focused only on softball and baseball, but that was before we found this great warehouse, which allowed us to expand at the onset into a true sports academy,” he said. “We now offer cheerleading, soccer, football, basketball and karate. Recently, we’ve had meetings with Jackson area parents about adding hockey. We’ve talked about adding other sports, but that depends on whether or not we build a new facility or expand in our current one.”
Special clinics and camps, such as speed camps, have been very successful.
Lotterhos said the biggest challenge has been finding and retaining quality instructors. For example, former Ole Miss quarterback Stewart Patridge, Performance Sports Academy’s office manager and quarterback instructor, took a temporary leave March 15 to play pro arena football.
“We want to make sure our instructors have the same outlook as we do, to be dedicated to the growth of kids spiritually, mentally and physically,” he said.
Lotterhos and Snopek are working with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, which includes recruiting inspirational speakers like former football star Reggie White. They are currently negotiating with Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning and his dad, former Ole Miss and New Orleans Saints quarterback Archie Manning, to host an onsite football camp.
“It depends on their schedules,” Lotterhos said.
The ballplayer-owners would like to open sports academies in other Southern cities. “We don’t want to stop with just one,” Lotterhos said.
“This one’s taken off and has done great. We’d like multiple facilities in cities like Baton Rouge, Birmingham, Nashville, Atlanta and in Florida.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at firstname.lastname@example.org</a.