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Team Sports Out of Reach for Many Colorado Kids

Playing a team sport can produce positive lifelong benefits for young people. (Pixabay)
Playing a team sport can produce positive lifelong benefits for young people. (Pixabay)
March 14, 2017

DENVER – Children from low-income families are more likely to miss out on playing organized sports than their wealthier peers, and the impacts can be far reaching, according to a new report by The Colorado Trust.

Shale Wong, a pediatrics professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, says sports can have a positive impact on a child's growth and development, but cost probably is the biggest barrier.

"Sports are expensive," she said. "There can be equipment and uniforms. But you also have to have parents who can shuttle kids to and from practices, get them to games, and those can be really daunting for low-income families."

According to The Aspen Institute, in 2015 just over a third of children in the U.S. from homes earning $25,000 a year or less participated in team sports, but 67 percent of kids from homes with incomes of $100,000 or more played on teams. In addition to obvious health benefits, studies have shown playing sports improves school performance and graduation rates, promotes mental health and reduces risky behaviors.

Brandon Blew heads America SCORES Denver, a program aimed at low-income kids that combines soccer and poetry.

"The biggest thing is keeping them in a safe place after school," he said. "We actually hire teachers and they become both our writing coaches and our soccer coaches. Being engaged after school in a team sport, it really gets them committed to their day-to-day schoolwork as well."

Efforts such as America SCORES Denver have popped up across the state in recent years, but every one is at capacity and many have long waiting lists.

Creative partnerships, like the one in Alamosa where the Boys and Girls Club teamed up with the city's parks and recreation department to organize football and basketball leagues, are helping narrow the organized sports gap. And Aurora Public Schools fully funds middle and high school athletics, though most other public districts end up fundraising to field teams.

Wong says investing in children pays off down the line, and believes sports should be a right - not a privilege - for all children.

"The emotional growth that kids can have building relationships, learning confidence, I think even learning resilience, are profoundly important skills that are often built with team sports, and they really help to stay with them for life," she explained.

This story was produced with original reporting original reporting from Alan Gottlieb for coloradotrust.org.

Eric Galatas/Shaine Smith, Public News Service - CO