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Youth sports program has something for everyone

Story and photos by
Staff Sgt. Randy Redman
Thunderbolt editor

Andre Nation, a fifth grader at Tinker Elementary, makes a fast break during a basketball game at the Youth Center Tuesday. The Youth Center offers a wide variety of choices for all ages of youth to participate in, after school and year round alike.

(Editor's note: This is the second of a four part series about the youth department and the programs it has to offer the youth at MacDill. See followups in future editions of the Thunderbolt.)

Today's youth are one of the most diverse groups of people the world has ever seen. Their influences have broadened from their parents to the global influences of television and the world-wide Web. Fortunately, the Youth Center sports program here at MacDill offers a veritable cornucopia of choices to satisfy their insatiable need for diversity.

Taekwondo is offered Monday; aerobics and gymnastics are scheduled for Tuesday and Thursday; and Midnight Basketball is held Friday nights. But these classes offered for fitness are just the beginning.

Baseball, soccer, flag football and cheerleading round out the team sports offered. Participation isn't limited to children of active duty military; anyone who has access to the base has access to the program. Children of Department of Defense contractors, civilian employees and reservists are welcome to join the fun.

Marcellus George, sports program director, said one piece of the equation that makes the sports program successful is the attitude the coaches use to teach each sport.

"The emphasis of the playing league is on individual and group improvement, not on winning," said Mr. George. "Learning the fundamental skills of sports, and playing a variety of positions is a physically and mentally rewarding experience of our youth."

The main objective is to teach sport fundamentals and instill in each player a spirit of good sportsmanship, discipline and teamwork. Teaching fundamentals begins with another aspect of the sports program.

"Start Smart" has toddlers whacking a baseball from a tee as early as age three. Mr. George said the Youth Center plans to have "Start Smart" for each sport the youth center offers due to the positive feedback he received from parents. He said no one is trying to groom a football player for the NFL, they are just looking for an enjoyable way to spend quality time with their children while teaching them how to play America's most popular games.

For older youth who already know how to play, events like "Operation Night Hoops" keep teenagers busy on Friday nights. The program, which has more than 100 youths participating, was offered to all Air Force Youth Centers in 2001.

The sessions include weekly discussions about drugs, alcohol and a wide variety of topics that face today's teens and are free for all members of the youth center, said Mr. George.

Becoming a member is a simple process and relatively inexpensive when compared to the cost of joining similar clubs off base. The first step is for the youth to have a physical to approve the youth to play in sports. Then pay a fee of $36, about the cost of a tank of gas, to cover most youth activities for a year. To get started, call the Youth Center at 828-7957.

Adre Nation, a fifth grader at Tinker Elementary School, said he comes to the Youth Center as often as he can.

He has played most sports through the programs available and his favorite is soccer. However, as a fifth grader, he said the most important thing is having fun with his friends.

"I come whenever I have free time after school," said Andre. "I stay home if I have to write a report or have other homework, but I sometimes I can come here every day of the week. It's really cool."




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