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Park City’s Youth Sports Alliance going virtual despite pandemic shutting down spring programs

Lucy Helgesson, left, and her sister Sierra Helgesson wave Youth Sports Alliance Park City Nation flags as they walk down Main Street during the Olympic & Paralympic Homecoming Parade in April of 2018. YSA has been serving youth in the area since 2002.
Park Record File Photo

When the Youth Sports Alliance was established after the 2002 Winter Olympic Games to help the community stay involved with winter sport programs, it was impossible to know how big the organization would get and how many lives it would touch.

Just under two decades later and YSA has expanded past Park City, tapping into the talent of the Wasatch Back as well as supporting seven competitive winter sports programs and multiple after-school programs.

“We had a really great year from a programming standpoint from donors and sponsors throughout. We are set up extremely well to weather this storm for sure,” said Emily Fisher, YSA executive director, of the coronavirus pandemic. “… But right now we are looking forward to the community reopening whenever it does and helping those kids and athletes get outside again.”

Due to the pandemic, YSA has been forced to shut down its spring programs this year, something that Fisher said she and her staff took hard considering how much they love to get outside with the kids and have fun. Throughout the year, YSA has nearly 2,200 students participate in the programs, with the spring programs serving as a change of scenery given the typically change in weather this time of year.

The timing of the shutdown came at a less harmful time for YSA considering it had just wrapped its busy winter programming schedule. The organization is disappointed about cutting the spring programs but Fisher said that having to shut down the winter programs as well would’ve caused larger issues.

“Obviously our biggest issue with this more than the health standpoint of things was shutting down our spring programs this year. … It was a bummer knowing we can’t help these kids who rely on us to get outside and play,” Fisher said. “Fortunately we do have a couple of programs that we can do online, but we are just trying our best to figure out who do that with them. It’s not ideal but it’s the best we can do and we owe it the kids to do what we can for them.”

Apart from the virtual classes, which include a bike maintenance program, Fisher and her staff launched a virtual challenge to all of their students and parents as a way of encouraging them to get some sort of activity in.

Whether the students are elementary-aged participants in the Get Out & Play program or older children who participate in “ACTiV8,” YSA is challenging them and their parents to do 30 minutes of activity per day. A daily calendar YSA provides offers ideas for them to participate in, which in turn should spark other ideas, Fisher said.

“We are giving them a square a day with ideas on how to get active for 30 minutes. … It can literally be anything, but just putting down the screens and moving is a big help and something everyone should be doing,” Fisher said. “The one thing we know about all of this is that students aren’t getting enough activity in their daily lives and spending way too much time on screens. We need to help them so we’ve given them resources that hopefully will get them out playing again.”

Part of the reason YSA was formed was to stop kids from spending too much time in front of a screen and spend more time outdoors. So the concept of designing ideas to motivate kids isn’t knew to the organization — it’s just implement its mission in a new way.

With the spring programs shut down, Fisher said that she and her staff ave all summer to figure out how to best handle the fall and whatever comes with it. YSA doesn’t run summer programs because a lot of their partners have summer camps, which YSA encourages its kids to attend.

“We are spending time trying to work on how to make our programs better, sort of reflecting on how things went and how we can make them better moving forward next year,” Fisher said. “We anticipate that, with everything going on in the community, that potentially we will have greater scholarship needs. … We will probably have a higher than normal participation once everyone is back, so figuring out how to balance all of that will be important.”

Part of YSA’s plan for the fall is having three different models it can implement based on circumstances.

Model No. 1 is how to program if schools are still closed and kids can’t participate in person. Model No. 2 is if the nonprofit can continue with its programs but has to do so in small groups that must be distant from one another. And Model No. 3 is a return to full programming, the option Fisher is hoping for most.

If life in Summit County is close to being back to normal, YSA is planning to expand into a Wasatch County elementary and middle school during the beginning of school to introduce them to the programs offered. Last summer, the organization expanded into South Summit after spending most of its existence focused on the Park City area.

“We had a donor who came forward this year to sponsor all start-up costs to expand into those schools in Wasatch County, so we are hoping to launch that pilot program,” Fisher said. “If school doesn’t happen, though, then obviously we can’t do it. But we will still launch virtual resources for them and include them as part of our online programs.”

One thing that is so far unaffected by the pandemic is the annual golf tournament YSA puts on to drum up support and donations. Typically it’s hosted in the springtime at Victory Ranch Golf Course, but because the course was scheduled to undergo maintenance work, the tournament was pushed back to the fall. For more information, go to https://ysaparkcity.org.


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