The Churchville (Md.) Recreation Council has been a leader on the local youth sports landscape for more than 40 years. The council was founded under the auspices of the Harford County Recreation Department to provide the community with quality recreation and leisure activities, and has been organized entirely by volunteers since its inception.

"I have seen volunteers come and go," admits Harford County recreation specialist Jeff Berthney, who has worked with the council for the past 21 years, adding, "The council has always strived to do what is right for the youth sports programs."

For that reason, and others, the Churchville Recreation Council has been recognized as a 2012 winner of the Excellence in Youth Sports Award, sponsored by the National Alliance for Youth Sports and Athletic Business magazine. The annual award recognizes five youth sports programs across the country that are doing superior jobs of conducting diverse activities with a focus on providing safe and positive experiences for all participants, including children, parents and coaches.

Described by Berthney as a "stronghold in the community," the council offers a variety of youth sports, from baseball and softball to lacrosse and field hockey. There are even options, such as jump rope and archery, that are a bit off the beaten path. In all, more than 4,300 children participated this year.

One example of Churchville Recreation Council's exemplary progress over the years is the fact it was the first youth sports organization in Harford County to mandate background checks for coaches, both paid and volunteer.

According to council president Don Eller, the process of implementing background checks started about four years ago. Berthney had introduced the idea after attending the Youth Sports Congress, an annual NAYS event to educate and keep youth sports administrators up to date on crucial topics.

The mandate was voted into practice two years ago, and the council uses revenue from its vending machines to pay for each background check so that volunteers don't incur this cost.

"It was done for the safety of the program and its participants," says Eller. "It was the right thing to do. When you are striving to do the right things, you never pause to think that you will be recognized for doing what your head and heart are telling you to do. Some of our volunteers were greatly influenced as children by a parent or coach who made certain that they had options and opportunities to succeed. For some of us who didn't have that positive experience, but wish we had, we want to fill that gap in a child's life."

Story written by Linda Alberts, public relations coordinator for the National Alliance for Youth Sports.

The five winners of the 2012 Excellence in Youth Sports Awards, sponsored by the National Alliance for Youth Sports and Athletic Business magazine, are being announced in this space over the next five days. The awards will be presented to program administrators at the Athletic Business Conference & Expo in New Orleans on Friday, Nov. 30.