Youth athletics unite community
In Prattville, youth sports are synonymous with quality of life, with more than half the city’s families participating. It’s a selling point for many families, as was the case for that of Craig Freeland when they were looking for a new place to live after retiring from the military.
“My daughter has been involved in competitive swimming since she was five years old through the YMCA and through the city’s parks and recreation department,â€ Freeland says. He explained that they discovered all the recreation options available thanks to a campaign during which residents all regularly receive pamphlets detailing current activities in the community.
Chad Anderson, Prattville High School athletic director and head football coach, says youth sports are a huge part of the town’s identity.
“It’s the mark of the town. We don’t have a college team. We don’t have a professional team. In the South, sports are important, and that’s where youth sports come into play,â€ he says. “I grew up here also, so I played in the youth sports leagues and have seen them grow. That’s why my parents moved here years ago – to give us the opportunity to participate and be involved in a positive atmosphere, and I think that’s a big thing; it really brings out the best in a lot of the kids.”
Teamwork & Camaraderie
Kellie Cook, director of the Prattville Parks and Recreation Department, says youth sports are so popular because parents understand the need to have their children involved in extracurricular activities.
“Team sports build teamwork and camaraderie; they teach responsibility and help kids set goals for themselves, and it’s a deterrent from trouble,” she says.
Cook adds that youth activities offered by the city – namely youth soccer, youth league wrestling, youth swimming, basketball and softball – encourage the entire community to enjoy the parks system.
“When parents come to drop their children off for soccer practice, they can take advantage of our walking track or our picnic areas. It’s an opportunity to bring awareness to our parks that they may not know about,” she says. “Not only that, our programs are very affordable. We try to keep it very economically feasible for parents to participate because I know they want their children involved in some sporting activity.”
The Prattville YMCA, which was born in the 1960s from a need to give the city’s kids something positive to do after school, offers youth league football, basketball, soccer (one of the fastest-growing sports in Prattville) and girls volleyball for players from elementary school age through high school.
“We have one of the top gymnastics programs in the state, competitive gymnastics programs. One of our gymnasts is a walk-on at the University of Alabama with their gymnastics program,” says David Lewis, general director of the Prattville YMCA. “We also have a competitive swim program, which is incredibly strong as well. In fact, we had a young lady sign an SEC swim scholarship with Arkansas.”
Lewis says the city’s youth sports programs have also enabled children from across multiple socioeconomic backgrounds and abilities to participate on a level playing field, which he says is important.
The Y’s Field of Dreams, an ADA accessible baseball field, allows kids with mental and physical disabilities to play baseball with help from a customized playing turf, assistive devices and accessible dugouts.
“It brings families together,” Lewis says. “I know in my own family’s experience, as parents, my wife and I have been able to meet so many wonderful people who we’ve become friends with and who we wouldn’t have known if not for our children participating in sports.”
Anderson agrees. He says high school football games are a good place to see a cross section of the community.
“On Friday nights, you might see a lot of politics and business going on up in the stands,” he says. “And on Saturdays, you’ll have a big crowd at the youth league football games. You also see a lot of the people who played in youth sports programs or with the high school come back and support the teams – not just being a spectator, but many times actually getting involved with the programs.”
My wife and I have been able to meet so many wonderful people who we’ve become friends with and who we wouldn’t have known if not for our children participating in sports.