Newton youth sports participation increases

Basketball is booming in Newton's recreation department.

"Out of 31 days in January, we played 25 days straight, and we had no practices in our (Newton Recreation Center) facility," said Newton Assistant Recreation Director Carol Stiles. "There are 28 days in February, and we'll play 28. It is seven-days-a-week, and a lot of the coaches don't like it because they don't get to practice. Sometimes there are too many people in there, but we don't have any other space."

The story is similar for girls volleyball.

"Our biggest boom is girls volleyball," Stiles said, adding that between games, practices and 16 camps during the summer, "Those volleyball nets didn't come down."

Nearly all of Newton Recreation Department's youth sports programs are experiencing increases from one season to the next, Stiles and Newton Recreation Director Sandra Waters told city leaders during Wednesday's annual planning workshop.

The information was delivered in the wake of Newton City Council's discussion over whether to open the city pool in summer 2012. During that discussion, council member and recreation commission member Bill Lutz said that the city's youth sports were "bursting at the seams," and in need of practice and playing space.

"To operate the pool costs a lot of money, and it looks like we have a lot of needs that aren't being met," Newton Mayor Anne Stedman said near the end of Wednesday's discussion.

In 2006, total participation in all of Newton's youth sports programs totaled 785, excluding indoor soccer, which was initially offered that year as a free activity. In 2011, that participation jumped to 1,053, an increase of 34 percent. Numbers for 2011 do not include girls softball, but total participation for the year is the highest of the five-year period.

The statistics include Newton residents and non-residents.

Among youth sports offered by Newton, basketball attracted the highest participation, with 262 players in 2011. Soccer in the fall and spring also posted high participation in 2011 — on average 182 participants.

While participation isn't as strong, volleyball also showed a marked increase — 110 percent — from 2006 to 2011. Total participation in volleyball last year totaled 80, and the city's summer camp attracted 150 girls — more than twice the number that attended camps the preceding year.

The only sports declining, Stiles said, are baseball and softball. For baseball, participation dropped from 185 in 2006 to 123 last year. Softball saw participation drop from 40 in 2006 to 29 in 2010, and softball was not offered in 2011.

As demand for sports increases, so, too, does demand on playing and practice space, as well as equipment for the sports teams, Waters said.

From a revenue standpoint, Waters said most, but not all, sports deliver net income to the city after expenses — not including staff time, which is subtracted from revenue.
Waters only provided revenue analysis for one youth sport on Thursday — fall soccer, which delivered a net income of $1,093 last year.

Meanwhile, as demand for youth sports continues to grow, demand on adult recreation sports is also increasing, Waters said. The city could also offer more opportunities for youth and adult outdoor sports if it were able to rent playing fields or provide lights at some existing facilities, she said. Currently, she said, the city isn't budgeting money for additional field rentals or lights at facilities such as Jacobs Fork Park, which could host adult softball tournaments, she said.

Demand drops, expenses increase

While participation in the city's recreation department sports offerings increase, demand for the city's pool is remaining flat or declining. At the same time, the cost of operating the pool is expected to increase in the future.

During 55 days of operation in 2011, the average daily attendance for Newton's swimming pool was 32.

The most people who visited the pool on one day was 77, while the low attendance was 4.

In May 2011, the city appropriated $42,600 to operate and renovate the swimming pool for June 2011.

Newton also budgeted an additional $85,250 to operate the pool in July-August 2011 and June 2012, including $17,400 to purchase and install equipment to make the pool compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act standards.

For summer 2011, the pool generated $11,557 in revenue.

During Thursday's workshop, Waters outlined infrastructure improvements the city will have to make before the pool opens in 2012, including ramps, lifts and/or stairs required for ADA compliance.

"We have got to have two means to enter the pool," she said. "What we have is old, and it will not meet ADA standards."

Further she said that as recreation department staff met with pool builders recently they learned that regulations for other pool equipment — such as the drain and pump systems — may change.

"Expense is going to be an ongoing thing," she said.

Recreation department staff is creating a strategy for the summer ahead, Waters said, adding admission and operating hours will remain unchanged from last year. The pool will open June 11.

Waters also said day cares, such as Abernethy Child Development and the Community Schools of Catawba County, are already planning to use the pool during the summer.

"Community schools attendance (in summer camps) has dropped some, but they are going to give us all they can," she said.

As city leaders learned more about the pool, Waters provided brief information about a pool alternative —a splashpark, such as facilities in Morganton, Lincolnton and Statesville. Cost for these facilities could range from $75,000 to $375,000 depending on amenities, she said.

"Keep in mind there are other things out there other than activities and programs," Waters said. "There is equipment that is going to be needed in this city, such as playground equipment. Equipment for programs is a need, but we have some other needs that are going to come down."

Newton's mayor said Wednesday's workshop — like sessions planned for Thursday and Friday — are informational. No decisions or official action will be made.

"We might have actions to bring to council later," she said.

Increases in youth sports participation 2006 compared to 2011
Basketball: 35 percent
Spring soccer: 57 percent
Fall soccer: 84 percent
Volleyball: 110 percent
All sports combined: 34 percent