County will spend $1.55M to increase access to youth sports
Will add programs, provide grants to help those underserved
The Montgomery County Council approved spending $1.55 million on increasing access to youth sports on Tuesday.
More sports leagues and clubs in Montgomery County are offered in areas with higher incomes, leaving pockets with little access to sports programs in some areas.
That’s according to a report the county’s Office of Legislative Oversight released in March.
The report also found that more programs are available to elementary and middle school-aged children than to high school-aged youths in the county.
To increase access to youth sports, the county will spend up to $1.55 million to add more sports programs, provide grants to organizations targeting underserved youths, and lower field and building fees for certain programs.
The County Council unanimously approved the funds on Tuesday.
Of the funds, $500,000 will be used to create a grant program and $50,000 will be to administer it through the Montgomery County Collaboration Council for Children, Youth and Families.
The organization will distribute grants through an application process for operating expenses to offer sports programs to vulnerable and low-income youths. Organizations can receive grants of up to $15,000.
Another $500,000 will be for the county’s recreation department to provide affordable and universal youth sports leagues targeting underserved communities.
The department will also use the funds to pay coaches if volunteers can’t be recruited, charge nominal fees on a sliding scale, and partner with a nonprofit to provide sports equipment to children who can’t afford it.
The remaining $500,000 will go to the county’s Office of Community Use of Public Facilities for a Facility Fee Assistance Program. The plan is to decrease fees for fields and buildings for youth sports programs that primarily serve vulnerable and low-income youths, are free to participants or charge a nominal fee.
Council Member Craig Rice said Tuesday that offering sports programs to youths can help steer them in the right direction.
“Anybody who’s concerned about crime knows that having sports programs that are out there that give [opportunities] for kids who otherwise might get involved in some other things to be able to have some productive ways in which they can utilize their talents is important,” he said. “From that perspective, this is a no-brainer for all of us.”
Rice also emphasized the need for more focus on youths with special needs.
“I just really want to stress that in a time like this and encourage a lot of our nonprofits to continue programming around our children with special needs with differing abilities. … I encourage all of our folks that are in our community, that are in the nonprofit sports base, to continue creative ways to involve our children who have differing abilities and who have special needs,” he said. “It’s going to be really important, especially in this time of [COVID-19], where there’s no connectivity for them to get that kind of interaction.”
Council Member Gabe Albornoz said the funds will help address discrepancies in access to programs.
He cited the county’s report that found that barriers for families include costs of fees and equipment, transportation to activities and a lack of opportunities for children with disabilities.
“This is a down payment. We hope to do more in the future, particularly during the pandemic, when so many sports associations and organizations are really struggling right now,” he said. “It’s going to be important for us to make sure that they remain whole, so that as we come out of the pandemic and it becomes more safe to open up more activities, these organizations remain around and viable to be able to serve our communities.”
As the county expands its focus on sports needs in the county, Council Member Hans Riemer said it should also look at increasing the number of diamonds for baseball and softball.
“I think we’ve put a lot of work over the years into rectangular fields,” he said. “But the county really let Little League and baseball and softball fields kind of wither on the vine over the last couple decades. There are thousands of kids that are in those programs, but we have very, very few tournament-caliber fields or even just good fields.”
He said the number of those fields has been inadequate and there needs to be a broader plan for more.
Briana Adhikusuma can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.