Youth Center sports are 'f-u-n - fun'

OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- Unlike stateside bases, where there are myriad opportunities for kids to get out and about, it can be challenging to find off-base activities for youth accompanying their parents overseas. 

The 51st Services Squadron knows this, and through the Youth Center Sports Program it has come up with a way to help military children stay busy and keep fit. 

"Most of all Youth Sports is f-u-n - fun!" said Wiyada Lee, Youth Center director. 

And they keep the fun coming all year long. 

During the summer there are two specialty camps: archery and skateboarding. It's during this time of year that Youth Sports also has swim and bowling teams. The swim team allows the children to visit other bases as they compete against other youth across the peninsula. 

Come autumn, the Youth Center offers soccer; winter brings basketball, cheerleading and another swim team; and the warm spring weather brings the kids back outside to play coach-pitch softball, Tee-ball, softball and baseball. Ms. Lee is also working on starting a couple of new programs: volleyball and fencing. 

No matter the program in which a child might be interested, it is important for the parents to be involved as well, said Ms. Lee. 

"We not only teach the children how to play properly, but we also teach the parents how to work with their children the right way," she said. 

This is especially true for the younger children. The Youth Center offers sports for five different age groups: 5-6 year olds, 7-8 year olds, 9-10 year olds, 11-12 year olds and 13-15 year olds. Each age group is worked with differently, allowing the children to develop their skills at the appropriate level. In fact, the "Mommy & Me Tumbling Class" allows the parent to be directly involved in the activity. 

With older children, parents may find respite in having them involved in activities outside the home. However, the children seem to look forward to their Youth Center visits as well. 

"The Youth Center is a great place," said Kylie McGrew, cheer captain for the Heat, the 9-12-year-old cheerleading squad. "There are some nice people here." 

Besides learning cooperation and "lots of new cheers," 10-year-old McGrew said she enjoys supporting the basketball players and entertaining the crowd. 

"I just like cheering for the teams and being out there - it's really fun!" she said. 

The key to the "fun" is the volunteers, said Ms. Lee. The Youth Center wouldn't be able to function without the 150 to 200 volunteers they need each year. 

"As long as they enjoy working with children, we'll train them," she said. "It's nice if they have a skill, but it's not necessary." 

Once the volunteer is trained, they have the opportunity to teach the children not only the skills necessary to play the sport, but also skills needed to grow as a person. 

"We can't always win," said Staff Sgt. Jeffery Womack, coach of the Bulls basketball team. "Sometimes the values that come from losing hold more truth than those from winning." 

Those values, he said, include self-respect, patience and team unity. He also wants his players to learn how to have fun while staying in control and the benefits of physical fitness. 

Those interested in volunteering for Youth Sports, or wanting more information about the program, can call the Youth Center at 784-4607.