The Detroit Parks and Recreation Department staff delivers on its “We Make It Happen” slogan every single day.

And the 300,000 youngsters that annually participate in its programs are clearly reaping the benefits.

“Since ‘We Make It Happen’ every day we are flexible and are ready for change and adjustment,” says Tracey Lawrence-Thomas, the Reservation and Events Coordinator for the Detroit Parks and Recreation Department Northwest Activities Center, and a Certified Youth Sports Administrator (CYSA). “That is really the key, being open to change and ready to adjust at any given moment. We also believe in making sure staff is trained to promote positive, supportive practices for our communities.  When we are unable to do some things, we look to our partners to help us ‘Make It Happen!’ We want all citizens of our City to have somewhere to go where they can focus on active lifestyles with no serious competition and no stress - just plain fun!”

The Detroit Parks and Recreation Department is one of this year’s recipients of the prestigious Excellence in Youth Sports Award. The Excellence Awards, created by Athletic Business Magazine and the National Alliance for Youth Sports, recognize programs doing superior jobs of conducting diverse activities that focus on providing safe and positive experiences for all participants.

The department offers an impressive array of athletic opportunities for kids of all ages and skill levels. There are the widely popular team sports like basketball, baseball, soccer, volleyball and ice hockey, as well as less traditional sports like dodgeball, kickball, pickleball, Frisbee, archery and boxing, among others.

“We have recognized that not every child is a basketball, baseball or football player,” says Lawrence-Thomas. “We want to make sure that we are on the cutting edge and are able to offer something for everyone.  We keep our ear to the ground and listen for what our customers, the citizens of our great City, are looking for and provide what they need. When the program works, others want to join in on the fun, and when it doesn't work we try to see what can be done to make it work.”

Its swimming program is definitely working, as it continues to gain in popularity among youngsters in the community.  

“This year our aquatics program took several swimmers to the 13th Annual National Black Heritage Championship Swim Meet,” Lawrence-Thomas says. “We had 14 First Place winners, 74 medal winners and placed second overall for the meet. That was a great accomplishment for our youth and aquatics program.”

This year marked the department’s inaugural STAY (Seniors, Teens, Adults and Youth) Fit Walk. 

“We had 80 participants in the walk and half of those registered were teens (13-17) and youth (3-12),” Lawrence-Thomas says. “We hosted the event at one of our premiere parks, Rouge Park, and are looking forward to the event next year. We have already started promoting and look to double the participation.”

Through all these diverse opportunities children also learn the value of teamwork and accepting responsibility; they build confidence and enhance key character values; and they form positive attitudes and a greater appreciation for leading healthy lifestyles.

Plus, every program stresses the importance of good sportsmanship. Each facility recognizes at least one team who best displays good sportsmanship, and one player on each team is also recognized for his or her exemplary sportsmanship.

The department also works with three outside organizations, where an additional 18 sports programs are conducted at its facilities while adhering to its philosophy of positively impacting kids’ health and wellness.

“We Make It Happen” is more than a slogan, it’s a way of life for the youth sports programs at the Detroit Parks and Recreation Department, which received the Excellence in Youth Sports Award on Nov. 18 in Orlando, Fla., during the annual Youth Sports Congress that was held in conjunction with the Athletic Business Show.

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