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Prall: Protect the parks

BY JACOB PRALL | DECEMBER 12, 2014 5:00 AM

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Public parks are a great place for fun, friendship, and the transcending of barriers across the board. That is why it is so sad to see Iowa City’s sport fields in danger of new fees as a result of city budget cuts.

Sports are an integral part of the lives of many young individuals; 21.5 million youth across the nation between the ages of 6 and 17 play in team sports. By the age of 6, 60 percent of boys and 47 percent of girls are on teams.

The benefits of group sports are broad and well-documented. They sow respect, responsibility, and trust in communities. Young athletes perform better in the classroom, experience improved behavior, and suffer less from anxiety and depression. They also tend to have healthier bones, joints, muscles, and blood pressure. High-school athletes are more likely to attend college than their counterparts, and women in particular experience benefits when entering the workforce. A survey of 400 female corporate executives revealed that 94 percent had played a sport, according to the Women Athletes Business Network. And it all starts when young, energetic kids take the field.

With all the social, academic and economic benefits, the costs seem insignificant and short-term. This is why the proposition to levy fees on local sporting groups that use these fields is so upsetting. What would be 10 percent off the Parks Department budget of Iowa City would result in thousands of dollars for local sport organizations such as soccer, football, softball, and baseball.

One reason the cut is being proposed in the first place is the local-option sales tax that was voted down in the past election. Many in the community believe that the benefits far outweigh the costs and that the negative effect of higher fees for families and lower participation as a result would be almost impossible to reverse. The Parks Department faces a difficult budget process ahead, but are cuts to such beneficial programs the right answer?

On top of all this is the national conversation on epidemic obesity among adults and youth. Adults who did not participate in youth sports are eight times as likely to be overweight by 24. In the United States, around 19 percent of boys and 14 percent of girls between the ages of 2 and 19 are obese. Kids going through this time in their lives are experiencing natural fluctuations in weight, but fewer than 30 percent of high-school students get 60 minutes of physical activity a day, according to ESPN.

Medical costs on their own bog down the average taxpayer, and if we’d like to live in a healthier, more active future, discouraging youth from taking part in community sports is not the right path. Youth sports groups of the area are also concerned about the potential fees’ effect on scholarships and assistance for those who would otherwise not be able to afford the necessary equipment and membership costs. Disenfranchisement of the less affluent, already heavily affected by the obesity epidemic, will contribute to a cycle of increased class disparity.

The Parks Department has to make some difficult decisions, and cuts are going to be necessary. Where the community should not allow cuts, however, is in these youth programs. They are too beneficial to the youngest of us and too positive for the future to be cut. This is not the time to stop pushing for youth activity, involvement, and overall health. This situation is a great reminder of why we pay taxes in the first place and lets us examines the real-world implications of voting against a seemingly insignificant or relatively unimportant tax hike.


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