Parks and Recreation Enhance Quality Community Sports: Sportstowns USA

Parks & Recreation, September 2003 | Go to article overview

Parks and Recreation Enhance Quality Community Sports: Sportstowns USA


HOWARD COUNTY, MD.

Smart Growth

Get Up, Get Out and Get Active. . . that's the call in Howard County, Md. Howard County is pretty much a rags-to-riches story: rural county explodes into affluent Baltimore-Washington suburb. Such a story, of course, could easily have turned out badly. But a strong vision kept the fastest growing county in Maryland on course to meet the needs of its community with high-quality programs and safe facilities.

By supporting community priorities, Howard County has been able to grow in a manner that makes smart-growth advocates proud. In 1977, there were only four parks in the county, and the community has been scrambling ever since to meet the needs of its booming population. Each year there is an increase in demand for facilities, so the community developed specific criteria for who gets to use them. Howard County gives preference to community-based leagues that demonstrate high-quality programs that include coaching and parent education, fun first and programs that help people meet their goals. They require a 501(c)(3) status and appropriate liability insurance to reserve facilities, and shoot for a 50/50 balance between youth and adult activities, with all sports programs complying with the America with Disabilities Act recommendations. By setting quality standards from day one, Howard County has been able to ensure that all residents can participate in a sports program that will educate and motivate them, and that's safe.

Early on, the county set standards for general security and risk management. Parks and recreation professionals receive in-house training and are sent to national conferences and schools, such as the Parks & Recreation Maintenance School, National Playground Safety Institute and SportsTurf Manager's Conference. The community also instated and promotes a number of safety protocols so everyone is on board to keep the community safe and active. Policies include protocols for lighting, coaching education and sports equipment. No coach or staff person may be left alone with a child. All facilities provide phone access for emergencies, and all programs are based on an approved national set of rules. By providing guidelines and education for staff and volunteers, Howard County doesn't leave anything to chance. . .except that occasional hole in one.

Accommodations for inclusion are based on the "challenge level system." This system provides a basis for determining the level of accommodation needed for an individual. Sports rules and equipment are adjusted for young children and mature adults. For example, the master's softball program provides "courtesy runners" and double bases to motivate people of all ages. In addition, leagues are broken down into divisions based on standings to equalize play and maximize fun.

People stick with sports (and improve their health) because they have fun, improve their skills and have the opportunity to play. Howard County has recognized this trio of motivation, and developed its top three priorities-player development, coaching education and fostering partnerships-to make sure they happen. According to Al Harden, manager of sports and adventure services for the Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks, "The purpose of our sports offerings is not to determine the best individual or team, but to encourage participation." Since 1983 the community has stressed the American Sport Education Program philosophy of "Athletes First, Winning Second." Probably the most outstanding aspect of this philosophy is that it has fostered winners. By fostering an athlete's skill development with high-quality coaches and facilities, thousands of Howard County's residents have been able to realize their sports goals. The county is well on its way to promoting health and well being to all residents.

CENTRE REGION, PA.

Penn State Leads the Charge for an Active Community

Pennsylvania's Centre Region boasts the kind of community where almost anyone would want to live, work and play sports. …

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