Valuing Sportsmanship above All Else

Article excerpt

Lakewood, Calif., has been committed to quality sports programs from the beginning. When the first baseball program was organized, the recreation administrators were caught by surprise by the overwhelming response from the community. Undaunted, they scrapped their intention of having recreation staff serve as coaches for the handful of expected teams and forged ahead with a plan to recruit parents to serve as volunteer coaches for the 100 hundred teams that were formed for the 1,200 youth who registered. Today, Lakewood is a tight-knit community of middle-class families. The typical array of Little League baseball, Bobby Sox softball, Pop Warner football and youth soccer flourishes amid neighborhood parks and campuses. Meanwhile, Lakewood's Department of Recreation and Community Services provides a complement of sports opportunities that supplement and often provide alternative choices for residents of the community.

In order to deliver the variety of sports programming Lakewood's residents expect, the city works with about 12 independent organizations. The city's extensive programming also includes sports instruction and low-key drop-in sports activities. In all, more than 13,000 participants are served annually by the city's efforts. In addition to the league sports, there are extensive opportunities to learn skills in non-team sports such as karate, tennis and gymnastics.

"The participating families are exposed to strong and positive relationships that translate into lifetime friendships that transcend the park activities," says Tom Lederer, community services manager for Lakewood. "Sports, especially for youth, are a natural forum for spirit among the participants, coaches and spectators."

The benefits of these unity and spirit factors are that everyone associated with Lakewood sports programs understands they can expect a wholesome, family experience.

Although a delicate balance is desirable when attempting to minimize competition, one major perk is granted to winning teams in Lakewood Youth Sports--city championship games are cablecast on the city's cable television station.

Although good sportsmanship is emphasized and the best sportsmanship teams are honored, improvements are constantly in the works. A new campaign has been implemented to promote positive messages about sportsmanship to coaches, participants and, particularly, parents and spectators. Large banners promoting sportsmanship are hung on fences and backstops at game sites. …