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When we change recreation, swing for the fences

     It used to be that in any southern town the most anticipated event was Friday night football, regardless of whether or not you had a kid involved in the game.

     It's fun to have everyone gather to cheer on the home team, and even better if it happens to be the week our team is duking it out for bragging rights against a hated rival. We, in the south, love our football and we love sports in general.

     But our county recreation department hasn’t offered youth football in 20 years.

     Now, the Jasper Youth Sports Association boasts over 300 kids playing football and cheering this fall. JYSA also has a competitive spring traveling baseball team, tumbling classes, and is expanding into a wrestling program.

     With the successful Jasper Youth Sports Association, the opportunity for the county to host football in their park and enjoy the packed stands and busy concession booths the sport brings is gone.

     To borrow a saying, “If you build it, they will come, but if you don’t have it, they will go elsewhere.”

     Although the county does have a soccer league, another group, Mountain City Soccer, sprung up when the recreation department wouldn't get behind soccer development.     Mountain City Soccer now has more than 150 kids playing in a fall soccer league, despite the county's concurrent program. Similarly, the local swim team, with more than 80 swimmers each summer, is run by a coach who developed her own program and is unaffiliated with the recreation department. A few years ago First Christian Church started sponsoring Upward sports with leagues in basketball, cheerleading and soccer.

     It’s a shame that kids had to go to other places to fill needs, as the loss of players hastens the decline in county programs. Less than five years ago, opening day for softball/baseball saw 800-plus kids in the players’ parade, but by last spring that number diminished to almost half that.

     These shortcomings of the recreation program here most certainly extend way back before the last director was hired and fired. But as long as the county sees fit to make a change in direction, let’s make a big one, a complete overhaul. As long as there will be a new director, we urge the county to rebuild the parks/recreation from the ground up.

     There was much more wrong with the program than a single director, and bringing our county’s parks up to speed isn’t going to be corrected by adding just one new face. It will start with dedication from a county government that realizes the value of  having parks and programs here that are at least on par with neighboring counties.

     Even though we don't have the financial resources of counties to the south, and though Pickens starts well behind counties to the north in park facilities, new efforts in recreation will pay off.

     And this isn’t a plea for spending money on new gyms and fields. It’s a call for creative thinking about how to rejuvenate the program. Consider that Cherokee County boasts an array of sports and activities for kids, from fencing and yoga to dance classes, flag football, wiffle ball, and running and walking groups.  We have facilities for all those offerings.

     And these sports are not just for kids. People of all ages need recreation and the county should encourage adults and seniors to get busy with organized activities and classes as well. It’s hard to get taxpayers on board for recreation unless we show them there is something for people besides basketball players in the gyms.

     Sometimes it doesn't take more money, just ingenuity and the desire to get it done. Let’s throw for the end zone when we make this change.

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