HOLLOMAN AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. --
What do stars Ray Allen, a 10-time National Basketball Association All-Star, U.S. soccer star Mia Hamm and former Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel have in common? Besides achieving mega-stardom as professional athletes, they all grew up playing sports, all around the country, as Air Force brats.
Even though not every Air Force dependent grows up to play collegiate sports, and less than one percent of all children who play sports grows up to play professionally, youth sports often instill values within the children, said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Hershell Smith, a volunteer youth coach.
"Youth sports allows them to build relationships, learn how to work as a team and teaches them sportsmanship," he said. "That's what they need to learn to be better as people and it's the one thing that I always tell the kids, is that out of everything else they learn from me, they are going to learn how to be better people, whether it's because they listen, are open-minded or they respect others. That respect is something they will carry with them for the rest of their lives."
At Holloman, the 49th Force Support Squadron's youth sports program aims to instill these same values and more.
"Our program follows the philosophy of striving to provide a safe, positive and fun learning experience," said Harry Miller, 49th FSS youth sports director. "I feel that's what sets our youth sports program apart. What we stress the most is trying to create a positive environment where children have the opportunity to learn valuable life lessons like self-discipline, cooperation, and being respectful, all while having fun."
The youth sports program, which currently offers soccer, flag football, basketball, t-ball, coach-pitch baseball and cheerleading, and in the future will be implementing volleyball and a running program, is open to any child in the Holloman community -- dependents of active duty, Reserve, National Guard, civil servants or retirees.
Currently, participation within the program is the highest it's been since Miller's arrival.
"This year we have 88 kids playing soccer and that's pretty typical every year," Miller said. "Soccer is the most popular sport but we get a good turnout for basketball as well. We're getting a lot of returning participants that are playing multiple sports, so I think we are providing a quality program. I believe the only reason they leave the program is because they become too old or their parents [made a Permanent Change of Station.]"
Although there currently is a set season schedule for each sport, Miller is open to suggestions for new sports to offer.
"We're always open to suggestions from the community and the parents about other sports their children would be interested in participating in," said Miller. "I want the folks that are involved with the base to keep their kids right here on base, so if it's feasible, and we can get enough interested people, we will get it started. That's what we did for flag football two years ago and it appears to be firmly in place."
Each sport, except flag football, is available to children five years old to twelve years old. In addition to that, they also offer the Start Smart program for children ages three to five years old.
"We offer that in soccer, flag football, basketball and baseball," said Miller. "It's an instructional program that takes place over a six-week period which is conducted in one-hour sessions. We work on the fundamentals of the sport in an individual parent-child setting."
In addition to these programs, sports clinics are also offered, Miller said.
"It's usually on a to-be-announced basis, but we try to put them into the calendar so we can offer them on specific dates. For example, we did a three-day basketball camp last summer that was really successful," he said. "We were talking about charging for the clinics but what we will probably end up doing is offering them for free, just to generate interest in the community. We design the clinics to get the kids excited about a sport before the actual season starts. That way they are motivated to tell mom and dad, 'Hey, I want to sign up and play on a team.'"
Registration cost for all sports is $45 and includes a game uniform, certified youth sports coach, participation awards at end of the season and eight weeks of actual sports participation. To sign up, parents must fill out a youth sports participation packet, get a sport's physical and meet the minimum age requirement of at least five years old.
"Giving your kids that kind of experience for that price is unbelievable," said Smith. "Because if you pay for after school programs, you know it's really expensive, so I really like the fact that for the money that you're paying, your kids are getting a huge list of benefits with this program."
The only downside to the program is the lack of quality facilities currently available to house the youth sports, said Miller.
"That is the main concern I have," he said. "I hate to cut off registration and tell people 'we just don't have enough room.' We've been fortunate that the fitness center has allowed us to share their field. It's an excellent facility but it's just not enough, and it's not ours."
The youth sports programs also offer a chance for Team Holloman members to give back, said Miller.
"Here is a very rewarding volunteer opportunity for the Airmen," he said. "Getting involved in the community and having a chance to make a positive impact is a huge deal. Youth Sports coaches have a tremendous influence on the kids and I know the kids can make a lasting impression on the volunteer. The kids really look up to these coaches."
So far, all of the sports programs have been successful, said Smith.
"Harry really cares about the kids and puts them into a good position to learn, and I think that is why the program is so successful," he said. "He has been consistently working to build this program to help these kids become better at not only sports, but life as well. It is unreal how much work he puts into the program and how much he cares about it. The program is successful because of the kids, but the program is going new places because of Harry."
And because of its success, the program will continue to grow, said Smith.
"The program itself is going to grow as big as the base does," he said. "The more people that come to this area, the more people that are obviously going to want their kids to play sports. If they get the facilities, if they get the funding and all the utensils they need, this program could be as big as any that I've seen."
Despite the successes of past Air Force brats-turned athletes like Allen, Hamm and Wuerffel, the youth sports director wants to drive home one crucial point.
"I tell every parent before the season starts to please keep things in perspective by remembering that the game is for the kids and not to expect the kids to be an over-night superstar," said Miller. "We have children from kindergarten to sixth grade and they are learning little by little. The more opportunity we give them to learn in a positive environment, the more they will enjoy participating in sports. That is the ultimate goal of our program. But the first step is signing your child up for youth sports."
For more information on Holloman's youth sports program, contact Harry Miller at (575) 572-3753 or by email at email@example.com