It's hard to fathom that 19 years ago the Community Youth Center was little more than a twinkle in Ken Hofmann's eyes. The former Oakland A's owner and noted philanthropist set his dream into motion in 1995 by converting a warehouse in a Concord industrial park into what was essentially a boxing and wrestling club. A couple hundred kids signed up.

Today, the CYC is a sprawling campus spread out across 55,000 square feet that provides coaching to more than 1,600 youngsters, ages 3-18, in 10 athletic disciplines ranging from rhythmic gymnastics and cheerleading to soccer and judo.

Oh, it offers something else: academic tutoring.

"We try to build good people through the exposure to sports and academics and a positive environment," said CYC President Dennis Costanza.

The newest addition to the campus, in fact, is its high school Academic Excellence Center, with 100 brand-new workstations, more than 40 computer terminals and two breakout rooms, ideal for teaching sessions on topics such as SAT test-taking. There are separate facilities for younger children (grades K-4 and 5-8).

Costanza, a former Chevron tech executive, had never heard of the CYC before being urged to apply for his current position in 2002. Now, as a 12-year witness to CYC's impact, he has become its foremost advocate. He talks of wayward youngsters learning discipline and purpose through athletics. He tells stories of youths from widely varied backgrounds blossoming under the watchful eye of attentive adults and in the company of new friends.

Among those stories is that of Elmar Malek, who came to the CYC at age 12, the son of a disabled single-parent mother for whom he was the de facto caretaker. Malek, who credits the confidence and the direction gained during his years at the CYC, now is studying medicine at UCLA.

Funding for the organization comes from the Hofmann Family Foundation, charity events and corporate and private donors. That's why membership, which is open to all, is just $31 a month. Scholarships, which are awarded to those in need, account for about 25 percent of participants.

"We believe there are five components to building a good kid -- family, faith, athletics, academics and positive environment," Costanza said. "The parts we focus on are athletics, academics and positive environment. When people come through the doors, we want them to have a smiling face and know there's somebody who cares about them here."

Twenty-five full-time staffers and 50 to 75 part-timers serve as coaches and tutors, whom Costanza describes as the most important part of the equation, because they have "direct interface with the kids."

The CYC's founding purpose -- "To help kids through sports" -- remains unchanged, but there's no mistaking its added emphasis on academic performance. In preparation for the organization's annual awards night celebration on March 12, all CYC members were asked to submit copies of their school report cards. Those who do will be invited to a special presentation with celebrity athletes earlier in the evening.

"We want them to get in the habit of turning in their report cards," Costanza said. "If a kid has a 3.8 GPA, that's great; he's doing OK. If it's a 2.0, we'd like to know about it and maybe we can find a way to help him."

Children from across Contra Costa County have benefited from the CYC. And to think it all sprang from a twinkle in Ken Hofmann's eyes.

Contact Tom Barnidge at tbarnidge@bayareanewsgroup.com.