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Paynesville Press - July 4, 2001

Evening activities get parents
involved in summer recreation

By Michael Jacobson

Picking up the ball Summer recreation used to be limited to daytime hours, which limited parental involvement in their children's activities. "It was tough for parents to attend when we had games at noon," explained Matt Dickhausen, Community Education director.

During a field drill the kids let the ball bounce then go after it. Many parents wouldn't be able to bring their children if tee ball weren't in the evening.

Two summers ago, a pilot program for fourth through sixth grade Little League started a switch to evening practices and games, especially for baseball and softball. The Little League switched to an in-house league with practices and games in the evenings and with parents volunteering as coaches.

"It worked really well to get parental involvement," explained Dickhausen.

Last year, more of the programs were moved to evening times, and this year all baseball and softball – except for softball practices for fourth through eighth graders – is in the evenings.

Dickhausen sent out a survey last year and the response supported keeping evening offerings.

Evening activities include baseball and softball, as well as tennis and track and field, which have nonparent coaches. Community Education does have activities during the day, too, like gymnastics, soccer, flag football, volleyball, and enrichment activities.

Dickhausen said their goal is to have a balance of daytime and evening activities. "We still try to make sure things are offered in the day because kids like to do things then, too," he explained.

Co-ed kindergarten and first grade tee ball is held on Monday and Wednesday evenings. Parents coach the teams, teach fundamental skills, and emphasize fun more than competition.

"I'm really thankful for the switch because it means I can be there," said Mark Leverington, a funeral director in town who coaches his son Luke's tee ball team. "If it were in the daytime, I wouldn't even get to watch him play."

"It's an opportunity for dads to spend quality time with their kids …and to have fun," he added.

"I think it was a great move," agreed Mark Dingmann, who is the head of the radiology department at the Paynesville Area Health Care System and coaches his son Zachary's tee ball team. "The reason being, a lot of us are working parents who can't get away during the day."

"My parents never saw me play ball, because they were working," he added.

Without the switch to evening times, Dennis and Betty Orbeck's kids, who live with them near St. Martin, probably wouldn't have a chance to participate in summer recreation because of the distance to their home. Their son, Luke, plays tee ball in the evening, and their daughter, Stacy, is in track and field in the evening.

The switch hasn't led to record numbers in the program, but this is mainly due to the small class sizes in the elementary school.

Dad throwing ball Having parents as coaches is another big benefit of the switch, according to Dickhausen. Years ago, summer recreation was taught solely by a single adult and high school students. That worked fine, but Dickhausen thinks parents are even better equipped for working with kids.

Parents help the teams with field drills last week.

The softball and baseball programs now average about three parent coaches per team, plus various volunteers throughout the season. More coaches means more efficient use of time and more one-on-one attention. "Parents have a vested interest (in their kids)," said Dickhausen. "They have a stake in their development."

Before the season, the varsity coaches for softball and baseball – Tim Woehler and Brad Skoglund – meet with volunteer parent coaches, review the skills to be taught, and how the kids should do them.

Leverington enjoys meeting his son's peers and being a role model for his son and his son's friends. "It means a lot to him and to me. It's great because I get to be there and encourage him," he said.

Parent coaches also help the program's bottom line. "It keeps costs down, too," said Dickhausen, who still assigns an adult supervisor from his office each night. "For the past two years, we haven't raised any prices."

Dickhausen offered a huge "thank you" to his volunteers. "We can't offer the quality programs we want to without their help," he said. "If I wouldn't have parental support, it wouldn't be a success. It'd be a lost cause."

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