The Seward Phoenix Log - News of the Eastern Kenai Peninsula since 1966

By Heidi Zemach
For The LOG 

SPRD ends unsupervised gym use experiment


Some youth under age 16 and their busy parents were recently upset to discover that the youth were no longer allowed to use the open gym, racquetball courts or weight room at AVTEC without adult supervision. In the past couple months, Seward Parks and Recreation Department “experimented” by allowing unsupervised activities. Due to bullying and inappropriate behavior, SPRD no longer allows those under 16 to participate in the activities without supervision.

“We were hoping the youth could rise to the challenge, but the maturity is not quite there for open gym without supervision,” said Parks and Rec Director Karin Sturdy.

Even if your own sons or daughters always behave responsibly, not all teens were doing so, she said And the staff doesn’t want to be in the difficult position of allowing certain youngsters to attend open gym, while not allowing others to do so. Without supervision, staff can’t tell who the troublemakers are. “It’s just ‘he said-she said,’” Sturdy explained.

Youth under 16 can still attend open gym if a parent or adult from the community is there to monitor them. All are encouraged to volunteer with Parks & Rec to supervise during those times, Sturdy said. Some have already stepped forward, and have let others in their circle know when they will be available so they can send their children along, too.

The city requested assistance from the Seward Prevention Coalition to provide volunteer supervision. It’s a large and diverse group of agencies, organized by SeaView Community Services to help provide greater education on illegal drug and alcohol use in the community, and steer youth into fun and healthy alternatives. But, although the group met last week, (after residents started expressing concerns about the city’s decision), it has not yet created a plan, Sturdy said.

SPRD staff also met again to confirm the appropriate ages for youth to attend the adult softball leagues.

“There is such a diverse range of emotional, physical and maturity development that the department again affirmed that ages 13 to 15 are still too young to engage with adults in a competitive sports environment, even when that recreation activity is ‘non-competitive,’ ” Sturdy said. “The risk of physical injury or emotional or developmental injury is too great,” she added. “SPRD recognizes there may indeed be several young individuals who are well-prepared to face those challenges, but we could not devise a fair plan to sort out that matrix. We decided to err again on the side of caution, if an error is to be made at all.”

To add to the pressure, Parks and Rec has been short-staffed, but has hired Jori Welchans, who has vast experience and education in parks and recreation. She will manage and coordinate sports leagues for youth and adults, officials in sports, programs, special events, races and invitational tournaments. This summer she is managing youth soccer, adult softball and other programs.

Also complicating matters is that AVTEC is planning major remodeling and renovations in its gym, the space SPRD currently uses for public recreation. The staff tried to develop a new youth-only basketball program, but did not advertise it because of the planned remodel. The program ultimately did not go forward because they needed to pre-sell 15 block spaces for teens in order to cover the cost of hiring staff to supervise it. The department was seeking a win/win for parents, youth and the SPRD budget, Sturdy said. Similarly, the city hopes to offer a baseball and/or softball league for teens as soon as they “age out” of Little League, beginning next spring or summer.

To volunteer call Parks and Rec at 224-4054.


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