The Huntersville Parks and Recreation Department is working hard to ensure that the town's citizens have quality recreation programs. But don't ask them; ask the National Alliance for Youth Sports.
Four months ago, Huntersville was awarded the prestigious Excellence in Youth Sports Award by NAYS, a national organization that concentrates on training administrators, coaches, game officials and parents on properly administering safe and positive experiences in sports.
Huntersville is only the second organization from North Carolina to win the award and was the only municipality receiving the recognition in 2009.
NAYS has issued the award since 2000. Last year was the first time Huntersville applied. Recreation superintendent Pam Royal and athletic coordinator Dave White began putting Huntersville's bid together late last summer.
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They completed a general form, accentuating the NAYS programs in which Huntersville participates. When the town made the list of 20 finalists, Royal and White had to submit a PowerPoint overview of its recreation programs.
Among the NAYS programs Huntersville offers is the coaches and officials certifications provided by the National Youth Sports Coaches Association, an arm of NAYS. Coaches and officials learn about sport-specific fundamentals and how to ensure players and parents are practicing good sportsmanship.
Huntersville also requires the parents of its youth flag football players to be trained on sportsmanship and ways to exhibit proper support through PAYS, the Parent Association for Youth Sports. As another arm of NAYS, the PAYS program requires parents to participate in an online training session that ends with a test they must pass.
Huntersville's involvement with PAYS is through a joint effort with parks and recreation departments from Cornelius and Davidson. White says the system is a lot easier to enact than requiring parents to attend meetings in person.
One NAYS program that allows Huntersville to distinguish itself from many other recreation programs is called Start Smart. It is designed to introduce youth and parents to sports in a noncompetitive environment while they learn the sport's basic skills.
White directs youth ages 3-5 and their parents through a series of drills for about 45 minutes. He launched this spring's Start Smart programs, baseball and soccer, last week.
"It's all skills," White said. "We play a fun-type scrimmage at the end. It's good for the parents because they can learn about the sport. Hopefully they'll end up being coaches. It helps build the parent's confidence and encourages them to stay with the children."
Of course, Huntersville Parks and Recreation is not limited to the NAYS programs, nor is it limited to athletics. It runs programs for youth and adults at 16 different indoor and outdoor facilities.
Its youth sports programs include flag football and volleyball leagues, and single-day events such as a track and field and punt, pass and kick competitions.
Several co-sponsored activities are also available. They are coordinated by outside groups that partner with Huntersville for facility use. Some examples are the Huntersville Youth Athletic Association, the Strikers and North Mecklenburg soccer programs, and Lake Norman Giants Pop Warner football.
Huntersville received the Excellence in Youth Sports Award in December at a NAYS conference attended by White and Parks and Recreation Director Michael Jaycocks. The recognition included reimbursement of much of their travel costs and a $1,000 gift certificate it used to buy sports equipment for the department.