The Young Athletes’ Program is changing the way Alachua county looks at sports. It is a program for children with all abilities, aged 2-7, to improve the kids’ physical skills and teach them to build self esteem through sports. The Young Athletes’ Program is sponsored by Balance 180 Sports and Gymnastics Academy and the Special Olympics.
Krista Vandenborne, the department chair of physical therapy at the University of Florida, is a co-founder of Balance 180 and says her ultimate vision for the program is to see children of all levels get involved in sports.
The Special Olympic Young Athletes’ program has an established curriculum modified accordingly to help each individual child. Depending on the ability of the child, one or two volunteers will be assigned to them. They will work on different activities including learning to jump and hit balls. Regardless of the exercise, the volunteers make sure each child’s needs are met.
One volunteer, Carrie Comstock, has been with the program since it started last summer. Comstock says the best part about helping the Young Athletes’ Program is seeing the kids be kids.
Balance 180 Sports and the Young Athletes’ Program prepares weeks in advance on Special Olympic style events like the one held on Sunday, December 2nd at St. Francis Catholic High School. Running relays, hopping relays, kicking, an obstacle course and tossing a ball were all part of the day’s events. Big names were on hand including Gainesville mayor Craig Lowe, Florida State Representative Keith Perry, and UF First Lady Chris Machen. Volunteers and UF cheerleaders guided and cheered on the kids throughout the day. A very special part of the event was when Jillian Roberts, a University of Florida sophomore and one of the torchbearers at the 2012 London Olympics, passed her torch around for each kid to hold. Vandenborne says Jillian helped to make the event indescribable.
Thanks in part to all of the hard work of the volunteers, coaches, children and makers of the Balance 180 Sport’s and Gymnastics Academy, sports are becoming an even more positive influence in children’s lives and changing the way Gainesville looks at sports.