Many studies have demonstrated that children benefit – physically, socially and emotionally – from participating in team sports. The benefits include improved health and fitness, increased confidence, and reduced likelihood of engaging in risk behaviors. Moreover, participation in youth sports programs, and after-school programs in general, is associated with improved attitudes toward school and higher educational aspirations, better school performance and attendance, fewer disciplinary infractions, and increased skills for coping with peer pressure. In addition, keeping students physically active is a key component of strategies to reduce childhood obesity in Baltimore and throughout the United States.
Despite the documented benefits of participation in team sports, Baltimore City public school students have few opportunities to take part in organized athletic programs, particularly at the middle school level. Baltimore City Public Schools sponsors only two sports programs for middle school students: basketball and track and field. In the absence of private support, many young people in Baltimore City would have no opportunity at all to participate in team sports.
Since 1992, the Parks & People Foundation has been providing opportunities for Baltimore City public school students to participate in a variety of team sports. Parks & People currently operates four youth sports leagues under the banner of its Hooked on Sports program – the Baltimore Baseball League; the Baltimore Middle School Soccer League; the Baltimore Starlings Volleyball Club; and the Baltimore City Middle School Lacrosse League. Parks & People provides administrative oversight of all four programs, coordinating coach training and use of athletic fields, arranging transportation to games, and overseeing the academic components of the various programs, including a service learning curriculum that focuses on environmental sustainability.
With support from the Abell Foundation, the Hooked on Sports program provides over 1,200 students each year with opportunities to learn and play team sports. The leagues provide these students with safe and structured after-school activities, and benefits ranging from improved physical health and enhanced self-esteem and social skills, to increased academic achievement. In addition, Parks & People is one of the lead agencies participating in a new Baltimore City Middle School Sports Network that is working to strengthen and expand athletic opportunities for Baltimore City public school students.