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Local youth sports activities growing in popularity
Craig Young, 12, fields a ground ball at City Park during the Cardinals’ practice Tuesday evening. - photo by Scott Rogers | The Times

Participation rates
The Gainesville Parks and Recreation Department offers speed and agility training, summer sports camps, peewee sports, football, cheerleading, golf, tennis lessons, Little League baseball and youth softball.
FY 2010    3,162
FY 2011    4,972

Hall County
The Hall County Parks and Leisure Services consists of basketball, cheerleading, baseball and softball.
FY 2011    2,833
FY 2012*    2,758
*Current fiscal year, which ends June 30

Facing two strikes, 11-year-old Andrew Rolader tapped his bat on the home plate and took his batting stance.
The pitcher delivered, and Andrew was able to get a piece of the ball. It was a shallow fly just out of the pitcher’s reach; the batter was able to reach first safely.

Not the ideal way to get on base, but it was just part of team practice. Andrew plays for the Reds of Gainesville Parks and Recreation “Major League” baseball for boys 10 to 12.

The Reds and plenty of other teams are preparing for opening day on April 14 as the city’s Parks and Recreation Department sees a surge in participation.

Participation numbers out of Gainesville and Hall County recreation departments are showing residents are willing to play on even as the entire country hopes for an economic recovery.

From 2010 to 2011 the city reported a higher number of participants in aquatics, adult athletics and especially in youth athletics.

Participation jumped last year by more than 1,500 youth participants, according to Michael Graham, deputy director of the parks department. And, he said, the number is expected to only grow this year.

“We’re having difficulty finding available field space,” said Graham.

The increased participation is welcome news for the city department after it saw participation and revenues drop through part of the recession — especially 2009.

Since then, participation has recovered, even if the economy hasn’t fully done the same.

“The only thing I can think of is it may be because parents are traveling less,” Graham said, speculating on the recent spike. “They’re finding more things to do locally instead of spending time out of town.”

The department offers programs to both city and noncity residents, but typically charge higher fees for those who don’t live in the city. Still, Graham reports, the higher number in players is coming both from city residents and those outside the city.

It doesn’t seem, however, that those numbers are part of an exodus from Hall County’s Parks and Leisure Services either.

Despite major budget cuts and increases in fees, that department is holding its own, too.

In 2011, an $11.5 million shortfall in the county’s general operating fund resulted in big changes for the department, which was at risk of being shut down altogether or being privatized.

The department’s budget was dropped to $1.7 million from $3.1 million, which came with staff reductions and the closing of its offices at Rainey Street.

Besides the normal fluctuation in some activities, which Mike Little, Hall County Parks and Leisure Services director attributes to “kids jumping sports,” activity numbers in Hall County have been steady throughout the recession — even after the budget cuts.

“There has been no significant drop,” Little said. “Everything has remained fairly stable.”

While participation in youth basketball this winter dropped from last year (from 1765 to 1680), Little reports an increase in youth cheerleading from last year and about the same number of players for youth baseball and softball. Participation in the Lanier Soccer Association, which uses Hall County fields, rose from 1,671 in fiscal year 2011 to 1,933 this year.

Hall County is also hosting more sports tournaments, such as the Georgia Youth Soccer Academy Cup in May, that bring out-of-town teams into local fields, Little said.

And for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, Hall County’s parks department is under budget and exceeding projected revenues.

“We’re busy,” Little said. “We’re moving forward and trying to offer some new programs, too.”

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