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After moving back to La Crosse two years ago, I noticed many high school students had the difficult decision between playing sports or making money.  They wanted to play sports, but had to work to pay for various academic and life needs, such as driver's ed, food, clothes, ACT/SAT tests, and college applications. Once Covid hit, I saw that gap expanding further as many athletes were not able to afford to play 7v7 or in a local fall baseball league. I believe everyone should have the opportunity to play sports, no matter their financial situation. One coach, one teammate, one sports experience can change your path in life forever.  I was connected with Rusty and we decided it was time to finally do something about the equity gap in the Coulee region! 

Katie Leaver
Vice President and

Growing up, I was blessed to have a support system that provided me with the opportunities necessary to achieve my athletic success. I want to be a part of something that provides the same guidance, resources, and opportunities that I received for athletes everywhere. No matter what their background or “status” in life is, it is wrong that kids are not granted the same opportunities as others based on their family’s financial standing. They're kids! Athletics, especially at a young age, is a stepping stone for lifelong skills, abilities, and success paths. My goal is to create many opportunities for all young athletes to reach their full potential in both athletics and in life.

Russell Murphy
President and

Meet The Team

Our Board

Board Member
Summer Elston

My name is Summer Elston. I am originally from Preston, Minnesota, but came to La Crosse to attend UW- L almost 25 years ago and haven’t left. Growing up sports was a huge part of who I was from 4H softball, to Saturday morning basketball to high school volleyball. I met some of my best friends and made some of my best memories growing up through sports. As a mom, I enjoy watching my kids play in a variety of sports from football, baseball, weight lifting, volleyball and figure skating. Not only have the coaches and teammates made such a huge impression on my children’s lives, so have the life lessons that they have learned while participating and being a part of a team. I do not want any child to not have this opportunity and that is why I am a part of this great organization. If there is a barrier that Rising Athletes can help with, we will. I am proud to be a member of this organization.

Board Member
Jocelyn Buxton

My name is Jocelyn Buxton, and I am in charge of social media for Rising Athletes. I was born and raised in La Crosse, and graduated from Viterbo College (now University) with a degree in elementary education. Growing up I loved playing sports, like volleyball, basketball, and softball. My husband and I have three kids, and all are very involved in athletics, which is why I was drawn to Rising Athletes. When I was asked to join the board at the beginning of 2023, I was honored to be joining such an amazing organization.


My husband has coached at the high school level for over 15 years, and I have served as an assistant or head coach for our own children’s teams in volleyball, baseball and softball. With three busy kids - an 8th grader, freshman, and senior - we know all too well the cost of not only sports equipment, but travel, food, registration fees, and more. Seeing and hearing about local athletes missing out on hotel stays or a new pair of basketball shoes or trying a new sport due to financial barriers drove my passion to get the word out about what Rising Athletes is doing.

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Board Member
Walfsty Pierre

My name is Walfsty Pierre, and I am a newer board member with Rising Athletes. I became involved with the organization because my involvement in sports changed the trajectory of my life. I was motivated by the coaches, players, structure, and the academic requirement needed to remain eligible. I was born in Haiti and raised in Miami, Florida. I was a year-round student-athlete, playing Football in the Fall, wrestling in the Winter, Track & Field in the Spring, as well as, Spring Football after the track season. I had great coaches, mentors, and friends throughout the time I participated in sports. I obtained a Bachelor of Science at Bemidji State and a Master of Clinical Social Worker at Winona State University. I am a School Social worker, Therapist, and a Football Coach. I strongly believe in the term "Student Athlete," and I support any organization that is there to remove participation barriers for marginalized students.

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Board Member
Lisa Swanson

My name is Lisa Swanson. I grew up in the Minneapolis area, attended the University of St. Thomas, and somehow ended up in Wisconsin! My love of sports started at an early age: playing wiffle ball games in the yard, skiing with my family and competing on school volleyball and basketball teams. I now enjoy going to UW Badger games and watching my own kids compete on the court, the field and at the ski hill. Participation in sports has taught me resilience, grit, and discipline. The lessons learned being part of a team and working toward a collective goal have shaped the person I am today.

Monetary barriers shouldn’t stand in the way for the kids in our community who want to participate in sports. Many times, the solution is easy - a new pair of shoes, a new glove or a team activity fee paid. I am honored to be part of an organization that helps kids in our community!

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Board Member
Kyle Zellner

I grew up in Wisconsin Rapids and attended UW-Eau Claire with a Broadfield Social Studies degree.  I am in my 17th year of teaching and have taught both high school and middle school. I coached all levels of tennis while living in MN and played tennis throughout high school.  I am currently teaching 7th grade social studies at Holmen Middle School.  My wife teaches at Logan High School and we have three children who are all active in sports.  I joined the board because I know the importance that a team sport can have on individuals.  The skills they learn are with them for a lifetime.  I have seen firsthand the financial need that our youth face when wanting to join a sport and I wanted to make sure I was part of an organization that could help with that.

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