Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources: Keeping Kids Safe and Active During COVID-19

ODPHP recognizes National Youth Sports Strategy (NYSS) Champions for their commitment to supporting safe, fun, inclusive, developmentally appropriate, and accessible youth sports opportunities. This blog post is part of a series highlighting NYSS Champions that have found new and creative ways to engage their communities in physical activity and sports during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

This post highlights how Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources kept kids safe and active — on and off the field — during the pandemic.

Like other parks departments nationwide, Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources in North Carolina canceled all of their regular sports programming for kids in the spring of 2020 because of the pandemic. But they still offered programs to help kids in their community get active — all while working to bring back athletic opportunities for the fall.

“We knew we needed to go above and beyond to support kids and families during COVID-19,” says Jason Simpson, Athletics Program Director at Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources. “One of our top priorities was to provide a place where kids in the community could safely participate in sports and non-sports activities.”

Giving Kids a Place to Get Active

For elementary-age kids attending school virtually during the pandemic, the department offered free after-school activities at 5 local community centers through their Parks Play, Activate, Connect Kids Program (PACK). Program staff and attendees followed federal, state, and local COVID-19 guidance so the kids could play games, do arts and crafts, and have other opportunities to get active safely.

The department also offered a similar program, called Youth Escape School (YES), on teacher workdays and school holidays for kids attending school virtually. Kids went to a community center to do virtual learning in the morning and camp-like programming — including sports, games, and arts and crafts — in the afternoon.

Safely Bringing Back Sports 

After canceling sports programming in the spring of 2020, Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources began thinking about how to safely bring kids back onto the field in the fall. 

Ultimately, the department decided to offer baseball and softball, in part because players could keep their distance from each other on the field. The department also required participants to answer COVID-19 screening questions and have their temperatures checked before every game and practice.

Simpson says the department did a good job of keeping everyone safe by going above and beyond COVID-19 guidelines while offering kids the opportunity to be active. “For the fall season, we were very fortunate in that we didn’t have to shut down any teams or postpone any games,” he says, adding that there were no reports of COVID-19 cases linked to the games. 

During Raleigh’s winter sports season, North Carolina’s COVID-19 rates prevented the department from offering their usual indoor basketball programming. But this spring they were able to safely offer softball and baseball again — and to add flag football.

Connecting with Parents

Ever since Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources brought back sports programming last fall, they’ve prioritized giving participants’ parents all the information they need up front. The department held their regular parent meetings virtually this year, and in addition to going through the rule book as usual, they spent significant time detailing COVID-19 protocols and addressing parents’ questions.

Even though the department couldn’t offer all of their regular sports programming, Simpson says parents appreciated that the department did what they could. During the fall season, many parents couldn’t find sports opportunities for their kids elsewhere — which meant some of them discovered the department’s programming for the first time.

“We had a lot of first-time players, which was fantastic,” Simpson says. “We really garnered a lot of positive feedback from players and parents for making it possible to safely get out on the field — and we were thrilled we could do it.”

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