Fewer kids on east side play

Every parent in east Augusta has a chance to sign a child up for city sports such as baseball, basketball and soccer. But some youths in the socioeconomically depressed area still might be getting left out.

Participation in the city's youth sports programs in east Augusta - 550 youths this year - is about half that in the affluent west side of town. And the number represents less than a quarter of South Augusta's participation, according to registration information provided by the city's recreation and parks department.

Differences in the districts' size might account for some of the disparity. For example, South Augusta is a much larger area than its counterparts, said Chris Scheuer, the athletic supervisor for the recreation department.

However, geographic differences can't account for why certain sports programs are virtually nonexistent in east Augusta.

Though baseball and basketball trail registration levels in other districts, they still have a moderate following in east Augusta. But there are no participants in girls softball and coed soccer this year.

"The interest just isn't there," Mr. Scheuer said.

The city doesn't collect demographic information on its youth sports registrants, which could determine income levels.

Still, Gregory Utley, a 13-year coach for city recreation basketball and baseball in east Augusta, said obstacles to participation are probably economic.

Parents' time constraints and transportation limitations are among the factors Mr. Utley sees depressing participation in the community.

"Kids, some of them want to play, and their parents work at night and they can't," he said.

There also is a shortage of coaches willing to go the extra mile for players, said Mr. Utley, who often carts his team members to and from games.

East Augusta Middle School Principal Verma Curtis, who has struggled to get parents involved with their children at school, said some of the same factors that limit parent participation scholastically probably come into play in youth sports.

After working to pay the bills and playing both mother and father at home, Ms. Curtis said, single parents don't have time left to run children to practices and games.

Then there is the financial factor.

"When it comes time to register, there's a cost," Ms. Curtis said.

Fees range between $40 and $50, depending on the number of children registered.

Ms. Curtis said that can be burdensome for single parents with more than one child to register.

For those with financial constraints, the city offers a scholarship program for its sports programs, Mr. Scheuer said.

To get more youths involved, the department might have to adapt the sports programs to less formal training sessions with no teams or regular games, he said.

Reach Justin Boron at (706) 823-3215 or justin.boron@augustachronicle.com.