Crawford Prize

Robert W. Crawford Achievement Prize

2022 Prize Recipient

Arshay Cooper

Arshay Cooper

Growing up on the West Side of Chicago in the late 1990s, Arshay Cooper witnessed firsthand the devastating impact that poverty can have on a community. Cooper and his fellow students at Manley High School were living in a war zone, where hopelessness was ever present; opportunity was not.

Opportunity for Cooper arrived in the form of a boat sitting in his school’s lunchroom alongside a sign that read, “Join the Crew Team.”


“The moment I wrapped my hands around those oars, my life changed. I went to college, I traveled the world, I started a foundation, I wrote a book. I was able to do all of these amazing things,” said Cooper. “It wasn’t, ‘am I smart enough?’ I was just looking for an opportunity. And that’s the story of so many young people out there. So, let’s give them an opportunity.”

As captain of the first all-Black high school rowing team, Cooper learned how to bridge differences, build a team, and heal from the trauma he experienced in his neighborhood. “There was something about the water that gave us a peace that we had never felt before. We needed that,” said Cooper. “I wasn’t just introduced to a sport; I was introduced to wellness.”

Youth Rowers

Today, the best-selling author, two-time Golden Oar recipient, and IBPA Benjamin Franklin Awardee travels across the United States working through his non nonprofit organization, A Most Beautiful Thing Inclusion Fund, (AMBTIF), to break barriers within the sport of rowing by increasing sustainability, access to rowing, and diversity in youth rowing programs. “The idea is to make sure that every boathouse in our country reflects the diversity of its city, at every level of competition, from recreational rowing to the Olympics,” said Cooper.

“Every year we go into five different cities and start a rowing program. We go into communities that are neglected, public schools that don’t have resources, and we introduce young kids to swimming, rowing, college and beyond. It's been powerful.” In 2022 alone, AMBTIF introduced 2,000 kids of color to the sport of rowing. And this is just the beginning.

In recognition of his steadfast commitment to creating a fairer world and for his extraordinary efforts to break down barriers for youth of color in the sport of rowing, Arshay Cooper was awarded the 2022 Robert W. Crawford Achievement Prize. “I’m grateful for this recognition. Right away I thought about the new boats, the extra tours, the college trips that the kids will receive because of this Prize. I’m so excited to give this award to our young people to provide access and opportunity through the life-changing sport of rowing.”

Images courtesy of Arshay Cooper.


The Crawford Prize

Presented annually since 2002, the purpose of the prize is to recognize a living person who has dedicated him or herself to enhancing recreation opportunities for youth, making it possible for more young Americans to live healthy, participatory lives, thus reinforcing the work of the Foundation. Each year, the prize is awarded to that person, whether professional or volunteer, who has made an extraordinary contribution in advancing recreation programs for youth from disadvantaged circumstances.

The prize consists of a $50,000 cash award which the prize winner may direct to an organization providing programming aligned with the Foundation's mission. The individual members of the Foundation's Board of Trustees may make nominations. The award is presented at the Annual Meeting of the Board of Trustees.

Robert W. Crawford

Robert W. Crawford

For 60 years, Robert W. Crawford served others through his role as Commissioner of Recreation in Philadelphia and as Executive Director of the National Recreation Foundation. As the Commissioner of Recreation, Mr. Crawford established a national model for local government's provision of recreational services for all citizens. His creativity and innovative ideas won him international recognition. He also played an important role in the development and growth of the National Recreation Foundation during his time as its Executive Director. Mr. Crawford personified those qualities of leadership and commitment that the Foundation seeks to foster, which is why this Achievement Prize was named in his honor.


Watch this video to learn about the life and legacy of Robert W. Crawford.

Past Prize Winners:

2021: Tyrhee Moore, Washington, DC

2011: Eleanor M. Josaitis, Detroit, MI

2020: Derwin Hannah, Baltimore, MD

2010: Melissa T. Harper, Boston, MA

2019: Richard Louv, Julian, CA

2009: Robert J. Kohel, Westfield, WI

2018: Peter Westbrook, New York, NY

2008: Sidney Epstein, Chicago, IL

2017: Susan Teegen, Philadelphia, PA

2007: Kent Hutcheson, Denver, CO

2016: Spike Lobdell, Stonington, CT

2006: Margaret C. Daley, Chicago, IL

2015: Khary Lazarre-White, New York, NY

2005: Ronnie Lott, Redwood City, CA

2014: Jackie Joyner-Kersee, East St. Louis, MO

2004: Peter A. Witt, College Station, TX

2013: Harrison Steans, Chicago, IL

2003: Jane G. Pepper, Philadelphia, PA

2012: John Conaway, Bethany Beach, DE

2002: David McLone, Chicago, IL