From the stumbling steps of toddlers to the newfound power of young adults, year after year, Brown County Parks and Recreation sports are where local youth can find their stride.

In late summer and early fall, Deer Run Park is packed on weekends with families gathered to watch kids ages 3 to 14 play soccer.

In the winter, it’s basketball and cheerleading for kids as young as preschool and kindergarten. In the spring and summer, the fields come alive with softball and baseball for ages 5 to 16. All year, kids in kindergarten through 12th grade meet up for wresting practice.

So far this year, 1,260 children have signed up for a parks and rec sport, said parks and rec program specialist Andy Rudd.

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Some follow in the footsteps of siblings, parents, aunts or uncles. Others blaze a path all their own.

“The whole focus at this point is just to get ’em used to interacting as a team,” said Brown County Parks and Recreation Director Mark Shields. “But the No. 1 goal is that they have fun.”

This summer, Shields also was a soccer coach. When he had to correct one of his players who was off-sides, he picked him up and moved him to where he should be — and he let him keep the stuffed animal he held in his mouth.

Scores aren’t kept until children move past the 7-and-under league for soccer, and the same is true for the youngest groupings in baseball and basketball.

Watching players run off the soccer field at random for snack breaks, the reasoning becomes apparent.

Jessica Manuel had two children playing soccer this season and a third she expects to play in the coming years.

Manuel’s father coached and refereed soccer. She said she enjoys having the parks and rec league as a way for her children to learn important teamwork skills and for their family to bond.

“It’s something we do at home, during the week,” she said. “For me, I grew up on the soccer field, so it’s just something that I can do with the kids, that’s been fun.”

Evelyn Kent said she doesn’t really understand soccer any better than many of the young children, but that doesn’t keep her from enjoying watching grandson Leyton Robertson play.

“They’re learning. They’ve gotta start somewhere learning good sportsmanship,” she said. “I’ve always said, if you never — points-wise — never, ever win a game, but you show good sportsmanship, you are a winner.”

Amy Imming didn’t have children playing parks and recreation soccer this past year, but she still volunteered as a coach.

“This is an instructional, fun league; this is not supposed to be competitive,” she said. “This is supposed to give every kid an equal chance to learn the skills, and come out and have fun, and be affordable. So, that’s why I love this program.”

Fun for all

This year, among softball, wrestling, cheerleading, basketball, baseball and soccer, Brown County Parks and Recreation has given out 56 scholarships, Shields said.They’re available to families based on financial need, he said. Families with multiple children in a league also are given a $10 discount per additional sibling registered.

“We rarely ever raise any of the fees,” Shields said. “Periodically, maybe once every five to 10 years, we may reevaluate our costs, so the participation fee may increase by, like, $5. But we do what we can, as far as trying to keep it low, so that everyone can participate.”

Sponsorships is an important part of making that possible, he said. A typical team sponsorship costs between $175 and $225, depending on the sport.

Those sponsors help to offset more then just the cost of shirts, Shields said. They also help to cover the set costs such as paying for officials to referee.

Donors also can give to support a particular sports program, Rudd said.

Whether it’s sports or special events like their Falloween — with hayrides, s’mores and an outdoor movie — the mission of parks and rec is to serve the community, Shields said.

Parks and recreation sports leagues give children something productive to do, and families a way to participate in something together, he said.

“I think structured activities are definitely key for any youth as far as developmentally, but I think it also helps the kids to actually learn participation, as far as being a part of a team, finding their niche in the community, so to speak, as they grow up,” he said.

Over the past seven years, Adrian O’Shea has taken joy from watching his son and his teammates find their niche on the soccer field.

When his son, Jackson, started playing around age 4, Jackson asked O’Shea to coach him, and the next year, he was coaching his whole team.

“It’s fantastic seeing them progress, and seeing them play as a team,” he said.

“To see ‘em go from really timid and shy, to someone that really and knows technically how to play soccer, it’s fantastic,” he said. “It’s a great feeling for me as a coach.”

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Ben Kibbey is a Brown County transplant from the cornfields of central Ohio. He covers county government, business, outdoors, sports and general news.