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A smart start in sports

Perhaps it's the opportunity to get their children started early with an active lifestyle. Maybe it's to give the children a running start at becoming competent athletes or maybe it's just for quality time with their kids, but parents and their very little ones are coming to Start Smart.

The program is offered by Citrus County Parks and Recreation and is for the pre-T-ball set, children ages 3 to 5. Start Smart requires the presence of parents throughout each session, and that adds to the comfort of a first sports experience. Children and their families gather once a week for six weeks to learn basic skills, batting, throwing, running, catching, and agility to prepare them for T-ball and baseball.

"We base the whole program on a positive first-time sports experience and make it fun for them," said recreation program specialist Terri Moore. "The amazing part is you get to see these kids improve in six weeks. You can see their confidence levels go up."

Moore works with three other program specialists, Rick Worthington, Gina Hamilton and Bill Tarbox, on recreation within the county. Worthington covers the Homosassa/Lecanto area; Hamilton has the Central Ridge; Tarbox handles Inverness and Floral City; and Moore coordinates recreation programs in Crystal River.

Start Smart started one year ago and is growing. "We started with baseball," Moore said. "We've added programs because of interest and great feedback from parents."

The success of Start Smart has prompted expansion. It began in Crystal River and is now starting in the Central Ridge part of the county. Basketball and soccer programs have been added, and the goal is to spread throughout the county.

Although the program has funding from the national Alliance for Youth Sports, Start Smart does require a fee, which provides the children with equipment. It isn't for profit. The baseball kit, which the kids get to keep, includes a Koosh bat and ball set, a Koosh glove, a Mondo ball and a manual. "We don't make any money on it," Worthington said.

But in order to make programs like this more accessible and affordable, Parks and Recreation is hoping to offer free summer developmental programs in neighborhood parks, perhaps with programs one or two days a week.

Citrus County Parks and Recreation also offers programs for older youth and adults. For information, call 795-2099.

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