Bexley Recreation punts on traveling teams

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The Bexley Recreation Department will not offer traveling, competitive sports teams beginning this fall, but staff members hope parents will pick up the ball and organize a youth athletic association to keep the programs rolling.

"We were spending as much time on competition as instruction," which is against the department’s philosophy of helping each athlete develop their skills, explained Parks and Recreation Director Doug Jackson.

According to Jackson and his staff members, in a recreation program, winning should come second.

The move, which has the approval of the recreation board, will affect about 160  young athletes in pony baseball, boys and girls traveling sixth-grade basketball, lacrosse, field hockey and high school bowling.

The Bexley Marlins swim team could also be affected. Jackson called this a "gray area" and he thinks the swim team falls under the umbrella of a competitive, traveling sport.

Swim team parents have a different opinion, the director said, but have begun discussions about forming their own board, Jackson said.

The recreation department fell into the habit of managing competitive teams as parents asked for them, Jackson explained.

Residents sought competition for children as young as third-graders.

"Every year it gets younger and younger," Jackson said. "Parents want competitiveness."

Recreation supervisor Barb Greiner said that when she runs a team, she goes as far as clocking the minutes each player spends on the field, trying to give everyone equal time during a season – including less-gifted athletes.

But when it comes to competing, parents want to know "Why aren’t we winning?"

Greiner said. "Kids sitting on the bench conflicts with what we’re about."

As their children get older, the parents drop out, leaving the team in the lap of the recreation department.

His employees don’t have the time to run the traveling sports as well as the non-competitive recreation programs, Jackson said.

Finding places to play can be a problem with so many teams.

"We’re competing against ourselves for gym space," Jackson said.

Transportation has also been an issue. Questions about liability for parents driving athletes to games necessitated the drafting of a long form to prove that the drivers were insured.

The alternative to the recreation department manning the sidelines is to have residents organize a non-profit youth athletic association.

There are successful efforts in Bexley, such as the youth tackle football program and the CESA soccer league, Jackson pointed out. And many communities in the area, including Pickerington, Dublin and Hilliard, have athletic associations.

There are numerous advantages to this arrangement, Greiner offered.

An athletic association can provide a link between the instructional programs and high school varsity sports, giving athletes a chance to improve their skills and strengthen the school program.

The organization can recruit and train adults to manage operations as others move on.

The recreation department is available to assist in everything from offering advice on forming a non-profit organization, to ordering and storing uniforms and equipment.

"Just not to the extent we were involved before," Jackson said.

The notice about ending the competitive teams mailed to parents, included in the department’s brochure and placed on the Web site.

Jackson has received a few calls from parents interested in shouldering the responsibility, but the response has not been overwhelming, he said.

Those interested can contact the recreation department at 258-5755.

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