Guest opinion: Youth Sports Alliance will leave a mark on 2022 Winter Olympics
Youth Sports Alliance executive director
Last week, Parkites Casey Dawson and Ashley Farquharson were named to the U.S. Olympic Speedskating Team and U.S. Olympic Luge Team respectively. It isn’t the first time that locals have earned the opportunity to represent the United States or other countries in the Olympics. In 2018, 54 hometown and homegrown athletes represented Park City in PyeongChang. What makes Casey and Ashley’s accomplishments different is that they began their journeys through after-school programs run by the Youth Sports Alliance (YSA), a legacy of the 2002 Games.
Two decades ago, Jim Gaddis, Bob Wheaton and Jan Peterson, among others, came up with the idea to form an organization tasked with introducing young people in our community to winter sports. Their idea was to ensure that the venues built for the 2002 Olympic Games would continue to be utilized and that all youth in our community could have access to our outdoor playground. Toward the end of 2002, they launched the Youth Winter Sports Alliance, now known as the Youth Sports Alliance.
YSA utilizes various strategies to get children from Summit and Wasatch counties outdoors and active — running after-school programs, fundraising to support local winter sport teams and providing financial assistance to ensure that children can participate in our after-school programming or train with their winter sports clubs. While we offer programming throughout the school year, the greatest number of our participants take part during the winter months.
Over the course of the next few weeks, 759 students from across Summit and Wasatch counties will head to venues across the Wasatch Back to learn to ski, snowboard, slide and skate — an effort that requires more than 20 businesses and nonprofits to work together to provide transportation, venues, scholarships, gear, instruction and often clothing. Volunteers contribute more than 500 hours to ensure programs run smoothly. More than a decade ago, Casey and Ashley would have been among these students. Casey was a budding Nordic combined skier before learning to skate at the Park City Ice Arena. Ashley saw a flyer to learn to luge through YSA’s Get Out & Play program. She signed up for the four-week class and never looked back.
We don’t know whether there are any future Olympians tying on skates or clicking into bindings for the first time in our current Get Out & Play or ACTiV8 programs. But over the next month, our winter sport venues will be filled with children trying new things, learning how to get up from a fall, making new friends and feeling like they belong in our community. And, maybe there will be a spark.
Back in 2012, Casey and Winter Vinecki, a local aerials skier now heading to Beijing, were part of the Grooming Dreams marketing campaign for our JANS Winter Welcome fundraiser. Casey, who had only been skating for a year or two, was pictured in a graphic that suggested he dreamed of following in the footsteps of his hero, Derek Parra, a 2002 speedskating Olympic gold medalist. Winter was pictured sitting atop the shoulders of Olympic medalist Shannon Bahrke and Olympic aerials skier Emily Cook. Perhaps in the rest of the world “making the Olympics” seems impossible. In our community it feels attainable.
Mark your calendars for April 1 when we can celebrate all homegrown and hometown Olympians with our YSA Olympic & Paralympic Homecoming parade. Jim Gaddis will be the grandmarshall leading an entire parade inspired by his and the other YSA founders’ vision. Many small towns have a post-Olympic parade to celebrate one Olympian — Park City’s best local event will celebrate 50-plus Olympians.
Ashley told me recently during a video call that she never considered that she wouldn’t make the Olympic team. It wasn’t a comment originating from bravado or conceit. It was the thoughts of a young woman who once decided to give sledding on ice a try and loved it. It was the result of a decision made 20 years ago when local leaders decided to give every kid in our community the opportunity and resources to “give it a try.”
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