THE AAO STORY

Brad Friess grew up living in 5 different states and 6 cities.  He found the most effective way to assimilate into a new community and make friends was to be on a team.  Being a part of a sports family was his “lifeline” for positive activities and friendships while growing up.

In 9th grade a coach saw a potential in him he could not yet see in himself.  This Coach told him he had the potential to play in college if he was willing to put in the work.  Little did his Coach know the power of this “dream seed” that was planted in Brad’s mind. The seed took root and grew through hard work and the nurturing of caring coaches.  This dream was achieved when Brad came to the University of Arkansas on a basketball scholarship.  He was a standout player and a 3 year starter on teams that won 3 -conference championships, went to 4 -NCAA Tournaments while making trips to the the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 championship game. 

While attending the U of A he worked summers at a youth sports camp in Missouri.  There he discovered his life calling...to impact the lives of kids in a positive way through sports and faith.  Upon graduation he went to work for Kanakuk Kamps, one of the largest sports camps in America.  There he helped plant “dream seeds” in the lives of youth and was able to see first hand what an enormous impact sports had on a young person when you put them in a positive environment with first class programs and encouraging life mentors. 

In 1990 Brad returned to Fayetteville and started Arkansas Athletes Outreach (AAO) on the UA campus.  AAO assisted university athletes with their life development and provided outreach opportunities and programs to community youth.   

Over the years many of these youth sports outreach programs grew and began to take on a life of their own.  In the year 2000, AAO opened the first phase of the AAO Sports Complex in Fayetteville and had a home to host its summer sports camps.  In 2011, Phase 2 was completed and AAO opened its newly renovated and expanded 42,000 sq. ft.  indoor AAO P. Whitaker Sports Center.  This allowed AAO to move its operational focus to being a youth sports development and mentoring organization.  

In 2020, AAO opened its second facility in Rogers, the AAO Whitaker Family Sports Center, a beautiful 10 acre property with indoor courts, a D1 fitness center and outdoor sports fields. 

Brad’s passion and commitment to building young people into “champions for life” through the transformational power of sports has never waivered.  That’s why he has committed his life work to serving the youth and their families for over 30 years in Northwest Arkansas. Today,  through the strong leadership of AAO’s  board, a dedicated staff, passionate coaches & volunteers, incredible athletes and families who participate, and the generous sponsors who support us, AAO has become a lighthouse in the community pointing the way to what youth sports ought to be.