Sporting chance: Army husband-and-wife team is growing NJ Coed Sports into regional recreational athletics success story

A week ahead of NJ Coed Sports launching its first soccer program, the organization only had enough people registered to fill out the roster of maybe two teams — not nearly enough for a league.

That wasn’t the last time Jay Oliva had to mount a mighty defense to keep his organization alive.

Some of the sports include beach volleyball, above, and softball, below right.

Eleven years after its launch, this veteran-owned business has fended off COVID-19 lulls and slow starts to find success as a 7,500-plus-member multisport organization. In becoming one of the biggest adult sports clubs in North Jersey, NJ Coed Sports stumbled onto a surprisingly big business opportunity in the region. It has a product that’s scoring big points with clients.

“People leave college or even high school and hang up their cleats, hang up their bats, put away their gloves and have very few outlets for continuing to play competitive sports,” Oliva said. “We provided an outlet for that in the northern New Jersey area, whether it’s soccer, flag football, volleyball or kickball — which, believe it or not, is a huge sport for us.”

As hard as Oliva worked to create thriving sports programs in the region, he didn’t realize early on the extent to which there might be room to grow his organization. What started as a local Morris County soccer league created mostly for friends morphed into what Oliva believes could soon be a tri-state contender.

Some of that is owed to the fact that there have been few other options for adult, coed sports leagues in the area. Oliva wouldn’t discount how his time in the Army National Guard might have also prepared him for running a growing organization.

“There’s multitude of people playing sports every day, about 1,500 a week,” he said. “Running this and growing it requires a great deal of organizational skills and also a great deal of discipline and attention to detail. Those are some of the core teachings of the military.”

Oliva is a 12-year Army veteran and is married to Capt. Katlyn Oliva, who runs the company with him. She’s the first female commander of the 102nd Cavalry Regiment in Westfield. She attributes the military leadership programs she’s exposed to as part of what helps guide her work with NJ Coed Sports.

The appeal of a fun social group was exactly what revived the organization after COVID.

The two met, of course, playing in an adult sports league.

“Actually, there’s been a lot of married couples out of these leagues,” Oliva said. “Outside the sports, it’s a place to meet people and make friends. It’s a fun social group.”

The appeal of a fun social group was exactly what revived the organization after COVID forced it to take a timeout. Lockdowns paused seasons, people moved away and players just disappeared, Oliva said. A lot of revenue disappeared, too.

After what Oliva described as a “reset” for NJ Coed Sports, there was a more recent resurgence of people interested in getting outside. That boosted their numbers.

“There was a definite influx of people who maybe never participated before,” he said. “People felt like they needed to get some physical exercise in their life. Now, looking into where we’re at, the league has definitely grown. We saw our biggest growth in spring 2021, when the league grew a nice 25%.”

Some people even met their significant other from joining the league.

Oliva declined to give specific revenue numbers for their organization. But, when you have north of 15,000 people registering over the course of a year for sports leagues that run from $100 to $130 each, the revenue potential is obvious; that’s true even if there’s a number of expenses that come from the use of facilities, sports officials, equipment and provided jerseys.

“But, we don’t judge things based on whether it’s a great money-maker,” Oliva said. “It’s all about quality. And we’re proud that we have the support of a community that has felt, year over year, that this organization has treated them properly and put out programs that really meet their expectations.”

The way Oliva sees it — when it comes to growth, they’re only in the first quarter of a long game.

“Hopefully, in another 15 years or so, we’re a name brand in the tri-state area,” he said. “We’re not looking to say we’ll be the only ones. But we want to be leaders here for years to come.”

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