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More than Four Hundred At-Risk Youth Participate in Free Summer Sports Program at University of Utah

July 16, 2002 — On weekdays in July, hundreds of young students, from nine Salt Lake City schools, have converged on the University of Utah campus to take part in a wide variety of afternoon health, sports and educational activities. They are participants in the free, five-week National Youth Sports Program (NYSP), a project that targets at-risk youth, ages 10 to 16.

One participant, 11-year-old Montana, says if he wasn’t attending the NYSP, he would probably be home sleeping-or swimming at the Northwest Multipurpose Center. “My favorite activities have been the bowling, basketball and swimming,” he says of the program, which concludes this Thursday, July 18.

A variety of athletic activities, including lacrosse, golf, tennis and swimming, are offered to attract the young students, but sports proficiency is not the main goal. The program, in its 10th year at the University, aims to build self-esteem while enhancing the quality of the participants’ lives by nurturing positive physical, mental and social development.

The students interact with role models from diverse backgrounds in a non-threatening, constructive environment. Several NYSP staff members work in the students’ schools. This year, Ute football players Lynzell Jackson and Marquess Ledbetter and Ute soccer player Missy Dennis are serving as group leaders in the program. Last Friday, students listened to John Hill, athletic trainer for the U.S. Speed Skating Team, discuss how an athlete becomes an Olympian and what is required to become a sports trainer.

Program activities and educational experiences-whether exploring career opportunities, creating chalk murals or learning about manners and hygiene-are structured to prepare the students for college as well as expose them to many methods of dealing with life situations. The children play cooperative learning games like Trust, The Human Knot and Hospital Tag.

Eleven-year-old Jessica especially likes the dance class. “We have to dance together. You have to be with other people almost all of the time.”

About 425 kids have participated in the University’s NYSP so far this summer, with an average daily attendance of 225. Every weekday the program begins with a free lunch at a neighborhood site, usually a school nearby. Participants are then transported, at no cost, in big, yellow school buses to the University where they spend the afternoon in four, one-hour classes or activities. Students are grouped by age and are organized in classes of 25 or 30 participants. An afternoon snack is provided and, at the end of the day, the buses transport the children back to the neighborhood sites.

About 90 percent of NYSP students are recruited in the spring with the assistance of the Salt Lake Community Action Program, which identifies schools with the highest percentage of students assisted in the School Lunch Program. In accordance with grant requirements, at least 90 percent of NYSP participants come from families whose income levels are at or below the poverty guidelines established by the Department of Health and Human Services.

“Some of the NYSP students come every day for the full five weeks,” notes Melanie Vanegas, University of Utah National Youth Sports Program project administrator. “But for various other reasons, some students participate sporadically. Any contact we have with these youth is beneficial.”

As a program requirement, all participants were given physical examinations, conducted gratis by physicians and health care professionals from the U of U Hospital and Intermountain Health Care (IHC) clinics. This year more than 400 physical exams were given. Free immunizations and dental screenings-even T-shirts-were provided.

NYSP is a federally funded program, which is coordinated and administered by the National Youth Sports Corporation (NYSC). The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services awards the grant. NYSC allocates appropriate funding to selected institutions of higher education, such as the University of Utah, which, in turn, provide the facilities, materials, services and additional personnel required to implement the NYSP program. NYSP receives additional financial and in-kind support from the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the University of Utah and various community agencies.