SPORTS: Here are two opportunities to help our city's kids

December 25, 2006

Almost a year ago, IBJ asked me to write a column that placed sports in an educational context. Obviously, I have great passion for the topic, having spent my life writing about sports, those who play the games, and the lessons that can be learned through participation.

Sure, there are plentiful examples of excesses, and we certainly just had another in New York's Madison Square Garden.

But I maintain those incidents are not reflective of sports as a whole, any more than Enron represents the ethics of the business community.

And at the grass-roots level, sports involvement can do enormous good. It can provide a youngster with an opportunity. It can serve as his or her motivation to succeed in the classroom and make good choices when it comes to health. It can offer a sense of belonging. It can teach teamwork, timemanagement skills, self-discipline, how to deal with authority, and the concept of sacrificing individual achievement or recognition for the good of the whole.

Oh, and it can just be a lot of fun, perhaps delivering joy to a boy or girl who can't find that kind of fulfillment in other areas of their challenged lives.

So that's why I'm asking, in the spirit of the season, to give the gift of sports this year.

Better still, give sports to our community's youth, in particular to those who are born into disadvantaged situations.

Here's how.

The folks at the Indiana Sports Corp. have come up with a great idea. Two of them, in fact. One is a program called "Geared for Health." The other is "Kids Expo."

We'll start with Geared for Health. Have you looked in your attic, basement or garage lately? If you're like me, here's what you might find there.

Tennis rackets. Golf clubs. Balls of the basket, base, foot, soft, golf and soccer variety. Skis. Baseball mitts. Ice skates.

And that's just in the garage. I'm afraid to look in the attic.

Might that stuff be put to better use in the hands of a kid? The answer is an emphatic yes.

Hence, Geared for Health. It's an ISC initiative-in partnership with WISH-TV Channel 8 and the Community Hospitals Foundation-that is asking you and me, your company or organization, to collect and donate "gently used" or, better still, new sports gear. The three partners will collect it, sort it, then redistribute it to not-for-profit youth sports organizations throughout the area, with an emphasis on those that tend to underserved youth.

A collection will take place outside the RCA Dome before the Colts'New Year's Eve game against Miami. The NCAA Hall of Champions will take donations on Jan. 15, Martin Luther King Day. You can drop off gear before an Indiana Ice game Jan. 20 at the Pepsi Coliseum. And there will be another opportunity before a Pacers game Feb. 11.

That's four-four!-opportunities to get off your duffs, dig into your storage areas or, better still, take a run through a sporting goods outlet and donate something a boy or girl in our community can use.

Don't think about this. Do it! As soon as you're done reading this column (and the rest of IBJ, of course), go buy some equipment, or just clean out the danged closet.

Now, about Kids Expo. That will take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Jan. 20 at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. This will be a one-stop shop for parents and children to learn about youth sports programs and camps; health, fitness and nutrition; and to engage in sports activities from floor hockey to fencing to golf and tennis. There will be games, music and Boomer and all his mascot pals.

Oh, and it's free.

We have a problem with childhood obesity in Indiana. It's our obligation to get our youngsters active, moving, running, jumping, involved. Make 'em burn some energy, instead of exercising nothing more than their thumbs on video games.

My good friend, John Byers, who is now ISC's vice president for youth programming after a stellar career directing youth programs at Tabernacle Presbyterian Church, is heading up both Geared for Health and Kids Expo programs. John has witnessed firsthand how involvement in a youth sports program can positively affect a boy's or girl's life.

So this is my Christmas wish. One more time, with feeling, give the gift of sports.You might change a life or simply make one a little better. For more information, call John at 237-5000 or go to www.indianasportscorp.com.

I donated a set of golf clubs. I couldn't hit 'em, anyway.

Benner is associate director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly.To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to bbenner@ibj.com. Benner also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.
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