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News and information from Pittsburg State University, Pittsburg, Kansas.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Summer program for children may not survive budget cuts

As Sharon Sisk talks about the uncertain future of the National Youth Sports Program (NYSP) at Pittsburg State University, she unpacks a pair of new tennis shoes for one of that day's campers. The shoes are for a youngster whose own worn sneakers literally came apart that day. It's not an uncommon occurrence in a summer camp that serves many students from economically disadvantaged homes.

As she juggles this and other minor emergencies, keeps an eye on the books and fields requests from camp staff, it is clear that Sisk, who is in charge of running the program, has even greater worries on her mind. The victim of deep cuts at the federal level, it seems likely that NYSP will not survive for another season.

"Federal funds for NYSP were cut completely last year," Rob Hefley, a member of the faculty in PSU’s Department of Health, Physical Education and Recreation and the person who wrote the initial grant for NYSP said. "We're running the camp this year on residual funds that the NYSP had nationally. After this year, there is no more."

In some ways, the PSU NYSP program is one of the lucky ones. Of the five NYSP camps that once operated in Kansas, PSU's is the only one that received funding this year, Hefley said. Just one-third of the camps nationally got any funding this year.

Hefley said the fact that PSU's NYSP program has won eight national awards probably helped the camp win this year's funding, which was just one-half of last year's. Hefley praised Sisk and her staff for their hard work in making the dollars stretch without reducing the number of students served.

Sisk said she reduced the number of days the camp runs from 25 to 20. She and her staff have been working harder than ever to get private donations, which have always been an important part of NYSP. And there have been cuts in equipment and staff.

"We're operating at half staff," Sisk said, "so the kids are in larger groups. Most of the staff took a cut in pay this year, but they came back. They're not in it just for the money."

Outside, as campers divide into teams to learn tennis, the noisy children give no hint that they sense the imminent demise of NYSP. Despite the heat and humidity, they bounce up and down as they wait for instructions that their instructor shouts over the constant din. For them, it's just another day at camp.

This is the 14th year for NYSP at PSU. Over that time, Hefley estimates, NYSP has served between 3,000 and 4,000 youngsters between the ages of 10 and 16. Students in this year's camp come from school districts in Pittsburg, Baxter Springs, Riverton, Arma, Girard, Cherokee, Frontenac, Kansas, and Liberal, Mo.

In addition to instruction in a wide array of individual and team sports, NYSP campers get summer enrichment classes in math, science and healthy lifestyles, which includes a strong drug and alcohol component.

The campers also get a hot breakfast and lunch, which is served this year at Pittsburg Middle School. Before the camp begins, the participants all receive a medical exam. All of this comes at no cost to the parents.

"Some of these children wouldn't have breakfast or lunch if it weren't for NYSP," Sisk said. "This program provides kids good nutrition, a safe place to be, education and lots of healthy activity while their parents are at work and school is out. It is a place where they always know there is someone here who cares about them."

The only alternative for some of the campers, Sisk said, was to be home alone while Mom and Dad worked. Whether that meant watching television for hour on hour or possibly roaming the neighborhood, it was not a desirable situation, Hefley said.

Hefley said the comments he gets from principals and superintendents of districts served by NYSP are a testament to the value of the program.

"They see the real value of programs like NYSP on a very personal level," Hefley said.

The NYSP at PSU continues through June 30. Administrators don’t expect to know about the future of the program until at least the end of July. In the meantime, Sisk is urging friends of the program to contact their senators to ask for their support for the program.

For more information, contact the NYSP through the PSU Department of Health, Physical Education and Recreation at 620-235-4665 or visit the NYSP Web site.

---Pitt State---