Nevada Parks and Rec keeping kids ‘in the game’

Twelve-year-old Natalie Emery of Nevada had the perfect pair of softball cleats for this summer’s 5th/6th softball program.
“We actually invested in cleats that were really good for this year,” said the soon-to-be seventh-grader.
Natalie had also invested time over the winter months working on her hitting. “Last year, I really didn’t hit that much. I was scared of the ball. But all winter long, I practiced with my step-dad, and I was going to hit a lot this year,” she said.
Then, like many other kids, she found out there’d be no summer softball league. Her mom returned the cleats, and as Natalie described, it was all quite sad.
“This was going to be my last year of parks and rec ball. I was excited and pumped … then really bummed.”
Charli Wirtz, 9 years old and going into 4th grade this fall, was also sad. She would have been playing in the 3rd/4th league this summer if it hadn’t been canceled due to Covid-19.
“I was really upset because I love playing softball, and because it’s how I get away from my little brother,” she confided.
Natalie and Charli and around 60 other girls and boys were happy when they found out Nevada Parks and Rec was going to hold summer softball/baseball clinics at the SCORE fields during June.
The clinics, offered alternating days for girls and boys, allow these kids to put their gloves on and work on their skills.
Rhonda Maier, assistant director of Nevada Parks and Rec, who is in charge of the clinics, said getting kids out on the fields was important for a couple of reasons. First, it allows them to practice their softball and baseball skills –- to “get dirty,” as some of the kids like to say.
Second, and also very important, it gives them a social outlet after months of not being around their friends.
“It took them a little bit to start talking again,” Maier said. “So socially, they needed this.”
Maier is proud of the Central Iowa Rec League that has been “her baby.” The league involves a number of area communities and has given many young athletes the opportunity to compete over the years. It was difficult for everyone that this multi-community softball and baseball league couldn’t happen this year.
But, once restrictions started loosening a bit, Parks and Rec wanted to do something for its local athletes.
“I always look at, ‘What if it were me?'” Maier said. “If I were a kid and didn’t have a chance to play and improve my skills for another whole year, that might potentially alter my interest in that sport.”
All of the kids who were signed up on a team for parks and rec softball or baseball this year were given the opportunity to take part in the June clinics. It didn’t work for every family, Maier said, but it worked for some, and those kids have been glad to be back out on the field.
Maier said she’s thankful that many sponsors of the summer softball/baseball program left their money with Nevada Parks and Rec to help fund other activities and programs, like these clinics. Those business sponsors include Farmgrounds; 21st Century Rehab, PC; Nevada Lions Club; Availa Bank; State Bank & Trust Co.; RMH Architects; Burke Corporation; Pedersen Insurance & Financial Services; and McDonald’s of Nevada.
Maier gets help during the clinics from another Parks and Rec employee, Sarah Lancaster.
At first, Natalie didn’t think she’d take part in the clinics. “I was like, ‘No, I already returned all my stuff (like those new cleats).’ But, my mom encouraged me to do it, and now I’m very glad I am doing it because it gets me out of the house, and it’s fun to see my friends again.”
Natalie also hopes the Coronavirus settles down before fall because she wants to play soccer and start her seventh-grade year at school.
Maier also hopes things settle down as fall arrives, but she’s been busy thinking of ideas for how to make things work for fall sports if Covid-19 restrictions are in place.
Maier said the softball and baseball clinic participants will get to play in a game-style situation during the last week. “We’re going to try next week to bring all the things we’ve been working on together.”
–Written by Marlys Barker, City of Nevada

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