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The decision by the City of St. Paul (Minn.) Parks and Recreation Department to eliminate youth sports fees for the next three years for kids ages 10 and older deserved to make major news across the country. After all, it’s an example of how one major metropolitan community is using funds from the American Rescue Plan Act — an economic stimulus awarded to municipalities in the wake of the pandemic — to enhance recreation offerings.
“Sometimes a young person may not have the access to family structure that may allow them to register or have the funds to do so,” Andy Rodriguez, St. Paul’s parks and recreation director, told KARE11.com.
Indeed, after fee-free registration was announced earlier this fall, the city noticed a 38 percent increase in basketball registrations over a year ago, which officials attribute to the removal of the $25 to $40 registration costs that could have been a barrier for some families.
“I’m super proud of this,” St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter tweeted. “It’s one of the coolest things we’ve done. And not just basketball — we used #AmericanRescuePlan funds to ditch fees for all sports & @SaintPaulParks is currently serving 1000+ more youth than this time last year. #WeWontStop
According to TwinCities.com, “St. Paul will spend $1.5 million of ARPA funds on its rec centers. That will include waiving fees for all sports offered, including baseball, softball, volleyball and soccer. The federal funds will also be directed toward expanded rec center hours of operation and mobile rec programs such as climbing walls, game trucks and other programming.”
Rodriguez estimates that 20 of the city’s 26 recreation centers have youth sports teams, the hope is to add more sports to the mix, too. But what happens after three years?
“We have a lot of runway to plan and forecast for future budgets, so we can hopefully keep this sustainable and prevent from having to reimplement a fee structure,” he told BringMeTheNews.com.
Other communities are using money from the American Rescue Plan to make improvements related to youth sports, too. They may not be as sweeping as what’s happening in St. Paul, but they are certainly worth noting.
• In Michigan, where an $11 million capital campaign is underway to expand the Meijer Sports Complex in Plainfield Township with more baseball and softball fields and additional amenities, using $2 million of ARPA funds for the project is a priority for Kent County commissioners. A $1.5 million federal budget earmark and a $3.5 million state appropriation also likely will go toward the project.
“We see an opportunity,” Mike Guswiler, president of the West Michigan Sports Commission, told MiBiz.com regarding the expansion plans. “Both with the impact we’ve seen to date and coming out of the pandemic — that pent-up demand just really skyrocketed us in 2022 beyond 2019 numbers.”
The website notes that “WMSC officials report that the 21 baseball and softball tournaments hosted from April to October at the Meijer Sports Complex this year generated more than $8 million in estimated direct visitor spending, a 44% percent increase from 2021 and a 32% increase from 2019. The events brought in 762 teams, 9,906 athletes and nearly 25,000 spectators who booked 5,524 hotel room nights.”
• In Umatilla County, Ore., the County Board awarded $100,000 grants from ARPA funding to two youth sports projects. One grant will cover the purchase of property for a planned regional sports complex in Pendleton that will feature lighted baseball, softball and soccer fields, according to EastOregonian.com, while the other grant is for a soccer, lacrosse and football complex at the Eastern Oregon Trade and Event Center in Hermiston.
• In Montville, Conn., the Town Council unanimously approved spending $16,000 of the town’s $5.5 million ARPA allocation for Montville Youth Football and Cheer to purchase approximately 200 new football helmets. The organization’s older helmets had not been recertified in three years, and all but five had been deemed unusable, according to TheDay.com. “You can get by without [new] pants, and maybe finding pads, but you can’t get by playing a football game without a helmet,” Kathleen Calash, vice president of auxiliary and fundraising for the program, told the council before the vote.