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Bridging the gap: Des Moines organizations work to improve youth sports accessibiilty

Studies have shown that kids who play sports are more likely to lead happy, healthy lifestyles, but not all kids have access to that opportunity.

DES MOINES, Iowa — Win or lose, playing sports can be extremely beneficial for kids. 

Studies have shown that kids who play sports are more likely
to lead happy, healthy lifestyles. But not all kids have access to that opportunity —  especially those from low-income households.

"The benefits of participating in sports are wide-ranging.
From a health perspective, it's a way to keep kids physically active.
Being part of a team helps them develop friendships [and] confidence
and shows them how to work with others," said Jon Solomon, the editorial director for Aspen Institute's sports and society program.

All these things are important to a child's development, but some kids are missing out because they simply can't afford to participate.

"The cost can be incredibly difficult," Solomon said. "Transportation can be a major issue to be able to get up to practices and games."

According to the Aspen Institute, kids from low-income households
are about two times less likely to participate in sports than kids
from higher-income households.

"Also, if you're from a low-income household, there's a greater chance that you have a single-parent household or you have two working parents that are working very difficult or late hours during the day. So a lot of kids have really been priced out of youth sports," Solomon said.

He says the rise of travel teams has played a role in the rising cost of youth sports.

"So what's happened is it's really created this divide further and further, weakening the local recreational-based recreation programs. And [it's] a big challenge, but it's also an opportunity for the local community-based play is to provide quality local, affordable opportunities for those kids because we're leaving so many kids behind who just can't afford to go the travel sports route," Solomon said.

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Des Moines Parks and Recreation has come up with a way to try and bridge that gap.

In 2020, they partnered with Des Moines Public Schools to launch a scholarship program.

"We had just seen from our numbers and working with school system that kids just couldn't afford to be in sports so what we wanted to do was make sure they were affordable," said Jennifer Fletcher, the Des Moines Parks and Rec marketing supervisor.

The program allows DMPS students who qualify for free and reduced meals to opt-in to register for Parks and Rec youth sports and swim lessons for just $5.

They've also partnered with the Friends of Des Moines Parks for the Every Kid Gets a Ball program.

"Not only are we getting kids involved in programs, we're giving them the equipment to actually utilize," she said.

Last year they had 10,000 kids registered in the scholarship program, marking a huge victory in making youth sports more affordable and accessible.

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