MFL MarMac Youth Rec participants learn about fun, competition
By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor
Each year, hundreds of kids in the MFL MarMac School District participate in youth sports, facilitated through the MFL MarMac Youth Rec program. They play football and volleyball in the fall, basketball during the winter and track and field in the spring. The year winds down during the summer with T-ball, coach pitch and machine pitch ball for younger kids and baseball and softball for the older ones. With around 250 participants—150 alone in kindergarten through third grade—the summer activities are the most popular said MFL MarMac Youth Rec Treasurer Nikki Kautman.
The organization is non-profit, existing mostly on enrollment fees, as well as a yearly donation from the city of Monona, and consists of a seven-member volunteer board. As a board member and a mom, Kautman said not a day goes by that she doesn’t do something youth rec-related.
“It’s very challenging,” she admitted. “It’s different than being a mom or going to work. There are how many hundreds of kids to organize.”
Although coaches develop their teams’ schedules, Kautman said the board organizes teams, finds coaches and updates equipment. She also makes sure T-shirts are ordered in time for the teams’ first practices.
“Kids love to have the shirt,” she said. “Now there are numbers, so they think it’s really cool.”
With so many students wanting to participate in youth rec programming, Kautman said finding willing volunteers can be difficult, so she encourages more parents to step up to the plate. You don’t even have to be a parent to volunteer she added.
That’s how John Winter got involved. He started coaching his granddaughters’ softball team two years ago when they didn’t have a coach.
“I do it because I enjoy it,” Winter said. “I have fun. My wife says she thinks I have more fun than the kids.”
Now sixth graders, Winter said he’s watched his team, which he coaches with his son-in-law, grow from 10 or 11 girls to 14. In three seasons, the girls have gone 18-0, 18-6 and 19-6 (which is their current record). He now schedules tougher teams that are usually a year older.
Last year, he said, he gave the team an incentive to finish the season strong: win six games in a row, including the last two against a team a grade older, and he’d let them give him a butch hair cut. They did it.
“They shaved me down to nothing,” he said with a smile. “My wife thought I was nuts, but that’s part of the game, the fun we have.”
While having fun is a huge part of the game for the coaches and the players, Winter said he also stresses learning and becoming more competitive.
“It’s nice to win, but you want to be competitive too,” he said. “When we’re here, we work and learn as a team. I’m strict. We teach the rules and how to have fun doing it.”
Kautman said she also enjoys watching the kids grow and learn. She marveled at how much her son, who plays on a second/third grade machine pitch team, has grown in one season.
“We hope they get better and more competitive and ready to face other schools,” she said.
The program also works, said Winter, with the help of parents who bring food for the concession stand to raise money for traveling to tournaments, as well as the adult umpires who call the games. The cities also do a lot of work getting fields ready for play.
“The city takes perfect care of the diamond [in Marquette],” he said. “I just email a schedule at the beginning of the season and every game it’s dragged and mowed.”
Winter said he’s had competitors comment on how nice the field is. After the large amount of rain the area has seen recently, Winter said competitors didn’t think their fields would be ready to go even after a few days.
“We could’ve played here the next day,” he said. “Even when it rains, the diamond is sloped, so it runs off.”
Winter said he’s thankful for those who volunteer and help out in any way and encourages more people to get involved.
“If you like something, help out,” he said.
Kautman echoed that, inviting people to attend the next youth rec board meeting to see what the organization is about or to share thoughts. Recently, she said, the board has tossed around adding soccer as a youth rec sport, possibly as soon as next spring, so they are open to talking about it with others and seeing where it goes.
“We’re seven parents who try to make the right decision,” she said. “We’re open to any help or opinions or ideas.”