If it weren’t for the hands-on initiative of Rob Nowell, D.C. wouldn’t have ZogSports, a charity-based sports league that’s brought together over 21 teams for some competitive fun in its inaugural fall season. If it weren’t for him, more than 320 local participants may have never known one another and the city would have hundreds of unformed friendships. And, if it weren’t for him, the organization that’s distributed just shy of 1 million in charitable donations wouldn’t be giving to local charities in need.
(But fortunately, this is all hypothetically speaking, and we, indeed, do have ZogSportsDC and the likes of Nowell.)
Fresh-faced to D.C., Nowell is the General Manager of ZogSportsDC, the man behind the newbie league that’s got locals talking. What many don’t know is that Nowell is a newcomer to the area himself and that he recently made a career changing move, literally: in July of this year, he quit his job in finance, packed up his bags and made the move from N.Y.C. to D.C.—a risk all in the name of ZogSports. “There was never a question in mind to move for ZogSports, because that’s how much I believe in the service that it provides,” said Nowell.
The road to establishing a branch-out (it’s also located in New York and New Jersey) of the sports league from scratch in a new city hasn’t always been an easy path for Nowell. After making the move to D.C., not only did he have to focus on adjusting and making new friends, but he had to actually launch ZogSports, an organization promoted mostly by word-of-mouth and community-oriented networking.
Despite the transition, Nowell pushed all new-town anxiety aside in the name of sports: he got to work and immediately jump-started on scouting fields and gyms, meeting with school administrations and the Parks department, forming relationships with bar owners, completing paperwork, posting fliers, interviewing staff and so on (really, his list is exhausting).
Additionally, Nowell had to study the likelihood of the company—all 350 pages of it. “I read a 350 page manual as part of my training, which even covered the exact interview questions that I would ask my staff. We’re a very organized, very dedicated company,” he said. “The week our website and Facebook page launched, I was easily working from 8 a.m. until about 3 a.m. each day.”
Why the sudden interest in Zog? According to Nowell, ZogSportsDC gets its demographic and understands that busy people don’t want to coordinate happy hours or squat fields—they just want to have fun.
“Because we’re a full time, dedicated staff, it’s as easy as possible for our customers to play,” he said, “we just don’t hire field managers or professional refs. We like to hire ZogSports ambassadors, who are also young professionals, who understand why our customers are there and what it’s all about.”
In 2003, Nowell was first introduced to ZogSports when he was a student at Columbia. When an ad for part time refereeing piqued his interest, Nowell contacted the company and began to referee on the weekends. As an active referee and Zogger, he began to formulate a relationship with Robert Herzog, founder of the charitable league.
“The company was so small that I got to know Robert Herzog and key people of ZogSports and establish really good relationships with them,” said Nowell, “it was a good group of people, a good cause that I really liked.”
After being introduced to the world of Zoggers, Nowell quickly learned the background of ZogSports: Herzog himself had been deeply affected by social tragedy, specifically that of 9/11. Herzog worked on the 96th floor of Tower One of the World Trade Center complex; and on that date, he just so happened to be running late for work. When Herzog stepped out of the subway, he witnessed the first of two planes in the attack make contact with the 96th floor—his floor—of the building.
That day, Herzog lost more than 300 of his colleagues and thousands of his fellow community members. And, as the city and nation began to recover and heal from the attack, Nowell explains that that’s when Herzog began to take note of the tremendous charity and social activism that leapt into place, inspiring the foundation of ZogSports.
Years later, after graduating from Columbia, thoughts of ZogSports lingered in Nowell’s mind after he nabbed a career in N.Y.C.’s bustling, corporate financial industry. Although he was quickly climbing up the career ladder, he still felt like something was missing. “At the time, I was 27 and was like, let me take a risk and try something that I’m really passionate about,” he said. It was during that time that Nowell e-mailed Herzog and proposed bringing ZogSports to D.C., and Herzog accepted.
At first, Nowell admits that the career change and move was difficult for him on a very personal level. “It was really tough. For the better portion of eight years, I was going to school and living in New York City, so much of what I know to be in my life and my really good friends are up there,” he said.
But even though Nowell was hesitant about leaving behind friends, he’s nevertheless been constantly bumping into new people, teaching him more about the city. In his own experience, some of his closest relationships are through co-ed team sports, and he only anticipates on creating relationships with even more people. “Just a few weeks ago, I traveled to N.Y.C. for the annual ZogSports Winter Touch Football Classic. Our team met the night before for a carb-load meal – pasta, bread and, of course, more pasta. Since we had to be up so early, a few friends hosted sleepovers at their apartments, so we could all get to the field bright and early,” he stated.
Nowell additionally admits that he’d be lying if he said the perks of the job weren’t getting to play in all of the leagues, and he points out that the level of involvement in co-ed rec leagues varies, depending on what you make of it.
“In dodgeball you can kind of sit back, dodge some throws and have a lot of fun. You can also stay at the front line, constantly in an athletic stance, with your heart racing from excitement. Naturally competitive, I was typically at the front line,” said Nowell. “I couldn't believe after the first few weeks, my back, hips and whatever muscles were used for lateral motion were sore as heck for a couple of days after Thursday night dodgeball.”
At the end of the day, Nowell’s grown a love for D.C. and its residents. “It’s hard to put into words but if you actually look at the people out there, everyone’s fun—they like to create fun. They know how to make a good time out of anything,” he said.
Likewise, Nowell’s got an obvious love for his job, too: “It’s a pretty cool feeling waking up every day and looking in the mirror, loving what you do, and waking up with a pep in my step and willing to accomplish the goals for the day,” he said.
So to all of you out there, Zoggers included—if you happen to see Nowell at one of the post-game ZogSports happy hours, reach out to him and thank him. Why? Well, mainly because Nowell’s reached out to us, to D.C., a city to which he otherwise had no obligation but had strong faith in.
And for that, we thank you, Rob Nowell.