The times are changing, and so are the activities offered by the Murray Parks & Recreation Department in Murray City, Utah.
“When I was a kid, we went out and played Wiffle ball until we destroyed the bats and balls. We were outside and active all day,” Murray Parks & Recreation coordinator Larry Killips told the Murray Journal. “Unfortunately, today I see kids and I shake my head. They’re overweight, out of shape and have such a short attention span.”
Killips has tried to change that trend by identifying activities that resonate with today's youths — from the high tech to the highly social. Some may seem low impact, but they nonetheless are getting kids involved.
Among the leading activity trends is esports, which may seem the most sedentary of all. Murray Parks & Recreation hosted its first esports tournament at an outdoor amphitheater last summer (the 9 p.m. start time adversely affected turnout), and plans are in the works to covert a former chapel into an indoor esports tournament venue. “Kids are already gaming, so the idea behind the e-Sports tournament was to get them out of their houses and into a social situation,” Leisl Morris, another rec coordinator within the department, told the Journal. “We want them to put away their phones, develop face-to-face relationships and also learn about some of the more athletic activities our department also has to offer.”
Cornhole, another low-impact activity that likewise debuted in 2019, showed tremendous promise. “Cornhole is a big hit and we had more people sign up for each league we introduced,” Killips said. “Some players have encouraged us to make it more competitive. But we don’t want to push people away. Right now, it’s a low-impact, social activity — and a blast for everyone.”
Given its equipment requirements, cornhole is also low impact on facilities, allowing for competition both indoors and out. “We started last spring and summer playing only outdoors,” Killips said. “But it has been so popular, I had to quickly line up indoor space for leagues to continue this winter. We may eventually divide things into social and competitive leagues. But right now, it is working fine as it is.”
Established activities that offer more aerobic rigor include cross country, and the department's distance running program got some added kick with the hiring of veteran youth coach Walter Watchman, who came to Murray City from Salt Lake City. Fifty runners participated in cross country last fall, and at Watchman's suggestion, a steeplechase course is being mapped out for the future. “Walter is aware of a steeplechase track we can use, with wooden hurdles and water puddles the runners land in after they jump,” Morris said. “We plan to try it in January or February, with kids practicing at Murray Park and occasionally in the Park Center during bad weather. I’m not sure how the participation will be, but we are willing to give it a try.”
An activity deemed worthy of a second try in 2020 is Spikeball, a sort of hybrid combining elements of four-square and volleyball. A planned Spikeball event last year saw no one sign up, according to Morris, who recommitted to the sport after seeing a presentation at the Utah Recreation and Parks Association's annual convention. She feels the sport is sufficiently known now and worthy of the department's attention. “I also taught a Spikeball class at Longview Elementary last spring, and the kids loved it,” she added. “We now have six Spikeball sets and it is definitely a go for 2020. We’re just not sure when, because we are still trying to line up a good location.”