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Community sports program resolves time, finance restraints

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HATTIESBURG, Miss. — Most Mormons expect to receive inspiration while reading the Ensign, but Kim Abel never expected her inspiration to arrive in the form of a neighborhood sports program.Abel, a member of the Hattiesburg Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was all too familiar with the steep costs of city league sports for her four children. Faced with paying up to $100 per sport, per child, Abel was determined to find a budget-friendly alternative.She prayed diligently, asking for a way to provide her children the opportunity to develop skills, sportsmanship and leadership through sports. The Ensign article about saving money by cutting back on organized sports served as a catalyst for the idea of starting Year-Round All-Stars, an intimate community league.__IMAGE1__After she mentioned the idea to Krista Grover, a fellow ward member, the concept continued to evolve. With four boys playing soccer through the Harpeth Youth Soccer Association (HYSA), Grover knew the proposed program could be a solution to the hectic scheduling of after-school sports."We had practice Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday with games from 8:30 until 1:30 on Saturday," Grover said. "It was such a busy time that our household wasn't running smoothly, and we didn't have much free time to connect as a family."Abel and Grover determined that the purposes of the program would be to provide children cost-efficient sport opportunities and help families minimize their time participating.Originally, Abel and Grover calculated that the program would be successful if they simply recruited 25 players. They handed out approximately 20 forms to church and neighborhood friends.A few weeks later, on the first night of practice, about 120 players showed up.Age groups divide each league and each age group is divided into two or three teams. The fields are split up, and every league is assigned a practice time and field. The program begins with a 4- and 5-year-old league, continuing through an 11- and 12-year-old league.Year-Round All-Stars costs $10 per child and incorporates soccer, flag football and basketball. Children have the option to participate in each sport.On game days, the players are asked to wear their official Year-Round All-Stars shirt that is included in the fee. To distinguish between different teams, the annual fee also went toward buying scrimmage vests in various colors.To resolve the hectic time commitment, the league holds practices on Tuesdays and games on Saturday mornings. As a result, more time is available for families throughout the week.The program has served as a successful missionary tool to the 15 nonmember players."People have obviously been exposed to our family values," Abel said.To account for leadership, parents with an athletic background have been asked to volunteer. Other parents donate snacks for game days. A different family signs up each week to clean up after the games.During the soccer season, the All-Stars program recruited 16 coaches, 13 assistant coaches and four referees. Recognizing an additional facet of untapped talent, the program formed two cheerleading squads, headed by mothers and local Young Women.Searching for Eagle Scout project ideas, local Young Men have discovered ways to benefit the community program. For example, one teenager sold concessions on game days. Using the money, he bought supplies for soccer goals and built them."My boys have really benefited from our smaller program," Grover said. "They are developing skills and gaining confidence. Plus, the coaches are more interested in the children than winning the game."Playing space is provided by Bellegrass, a local neighborhood with adequate sport fields and facilities."I've had parents with tears in their eyes thanking us," Abel said. "Some parents are participating for the money. Some parents are participating to simplify their life. A few parents had children playing competition sports and decided it was getting out of control. Several parents are participating to have their children form good friendships and learning that a sport is a side-benefit. They are participating because they feel this is how sports are meant to be played."

E-mail: hmecham@desnews.com