(Pictured above are Ivan Jones, Recreation Center - Facility Manager at Mecklenburg; Michael Daly, Park & Recreation Manager at Mecklenburg; legendary football coach Lou Holtz; and Brendan Cunliffe, Recreation Facilities Manager II at Mecklenburg.)

The Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation Department in North Carolina has been creating more opportunities for children to participate in its track and field program who otherwise might be excluded or marginalized.

And they’ve made it happen by making accommodations to include all kids; attracting more girls to the sport; and eliminating financial barriers. These terrific efforts helped it earn a prestigious Excellence in Youth Sports Award.

“We did a lot of restructuring and tried to make a lot of changes to really advance the youth sports that we offer,” said Brendan Cunliffe, Recreation Facilities Manager II at Mecklenburg and a Certified Youth Sports Administrator (CYSA). “So to see that be fruitful is something that really means a lot to our organization.”

It altered events for the younger kids to make participating more attractive, such as a 50-meter sprint instead of the traditional 100 meters; and a softball toss rather than javelin throw.

“A lot of young kids are burned out by the time they reach the finish line of the 100 meters so what does that do for their confidence?” Cunliffe said. “So we shrunk it down to 50 meters so we would be able to provide a better experience for them. Just like in soccer when you shrink the field size and provide more touches, that’s what we were looking at for track and field. We also added a softball throw for the youngest age so it’s easy for them to begin the throwing motion.”

It also established a Girls Youth Sports Focus Team to inspire more girls to participate, and their female participation is now at an all-time high.

During registration staff ask if the child needs any type of modification to participate in the program, a proactive process that sends a clear message to every parent that their child is welcome to participate regardless of their ability. If modifications are needed the child is assessed by their Therapeutic and Inclusive Recreation Services staff and an inclusion plan is devised.

“We want to show that we are inclusive, and we will provide modifications if they are requested,” Cunliffe said.

By creating a more inclusive and accessible track and field program, the department has seen participation rates improve as children are embracing these new opportunities to participate.

The Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation Department is one of four agencies to earn the Excellence in Youth Sports Award, which were presented during the 18th annual Youth Sports Congress in Orlando, Fla. in mid-November.

In order to be considered for an Excellence Award an organization must first be designated as a Better Sports for Kids Quality Program Provider. This designation shows that organizations have met benchmark standards when it comes to administering youth sports programs. Applying is easy – and free.

Excellence Mecklenburg Participation Track and Field

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