JOHNSTON, S.C. -- Forty-nine children and adults showed up for Betty Edwards' open-gym basketball Tuesday night, and 21 women attended Wendy Thrailkill's aerobics class in the first session of Johnston's year-round recreation program.
"It's a desperately needed program. It helps the kids, and I'm convinced it helps keeps the crime rate down," Mrs. Edwards said.
She is director of the town's recreation program, which is running year-round for the first time. Aerobics classes will be held from 6 to 7 p.m. and basketball from 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Johnston National Guard Armory. There is no charge for participants in the open-gym basketball, but the fee for aerobics is $1 per person.
The new program features only aerobics and basketball in its initial venture, but Mrs. Edwards is confident the program and the response to it will continue to grow throughout the year like the summer recreation program she has headed for two years.
Mayor Dean Campbell said, "The summer program has been a very successful program that keeps growing a little bit each year."
During June and July, when the program was in session, 2,658 children and adults took part. Aerobics and open-gym basketball were popular, but the most important part of the program this summer was the children's day camp each weekday, Mr. Campbell said.
"Sometimes the only meal these children got was what we fed them at the day camp," Mrs. Edwards said.
"We provided a learning environment as well as play for these children, combining exercise with education. We even made trips to the library," Mrs. Edwards said.
Mrs. Edwards, a basketball coach and physical education teacher at Johnston-Edgefield-Trenton Middle School, said she will continue to combine education with exercise in the evening, keep a check on children's classroom progress, and send the children home each night no later than 7:40.
The town is expanding its recreational facility at 56-acre Watson Park Recreation Complex. The National Guard is grading and preparing land at the park for construction of two soccer fields, a basketball court, walking track and softball fields. Other facilities are in the planning stage, Mr. Campbell said.
Pat Willis covers North Augusta, Horse Creek Valley and Edgefield County for The Augusta Chronicle. She may be reached at (803) 279-6895.