A State Street Research mutual fund that is designed for professional athletes and their coaches and families has grown significantly since it opened last year.

The Athletes Fund, which was introduced by State Street Research of Boston in March 1998, currently has $18 million in assets, according to Robin Tice, a firm spokesperson.

It is unique in that it is the only mutual fund that is aimed at professional athletes, said Russ Kinnel, an analyst at Morningstar of Chicago.

The fund is part of a strategy to get athletes interested in State Street Research's money management, said Derek M. Sanderson, who for 13 years was a star player in the National Hockey League and now is senior vice president and management company director of State Street's sports group. Sanderson was rookie of the year in the 1967-68 season and led the Boston Bruins to Stanley Cup championships in 1970 and 1972.

The sports group offers the fund and handles investment portfolios for over 100 pro athletes, 50 of whom are invested in the fund. It manages $90 million in total assets, said Tice.

Players start with the Athletes Fund when they are a draft pick, a rookie or in the minors. Once they accumulate enough assets to be eligible for private banking, they are shifted toward individual securities, said Sanderson.

The fund is intended primarily for professional athletes, and associated persons such as coaches, officials, agents, and relatives. Other investors who have an investment management account with State Street Research are eligible to buy into it.

Sanderson started the sports group in August 1997 because he wanted to educate athletes about managing their money - a goal stemming from his own unhappy experience. In 1972, Sanderson earned $2,650,000. But he lost all that money in only a few short years, due to poor decisions he made, Sanderson said.

One of the problems he encountered was that financial advisors talked down to him because he was an athlete, Sanderson said.

"They made me feel I didn't deserve the money," he said. "They made me feel stupid. I wanted to be educated but they didn't have the time."

He made a major mistake by giving his agent power of attorney, he said. The agent and his lawyer ended up making bad investment decisions, leaving Sanderson nearly broke at the time he retired in 1978, he said.

After retiring, Sanderson entered a drug rehab program and a year later, emerged, having kicked his addiction to drugs and alcohol, and got a job in an alcohol and drug awareness program at Tucker Anthony, a brokerage firm in Boston.

He eventually got involved in Freedom Capital, the money management arm of Tucker Anthony, in a program to attract professional athletes as customers. NHL greats Cam Neely and Bobby Orr were two of his first clients, Sanderson said.

When the sports group began, it managed the assets of established players. Soon after Sanderson developed the Athletes Fund as a way to reach up-and-coming players before they begin to make large salaries.

Sanderson and senior portfolio manager F. Gardner Jackson market the fund through personal appearances, sports agents and referrals from other players. In their presentations, they make sure never to talk down to athletes, Sanderson said.

"One of our finest traits is Gardner," Sanderson said.

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