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We owe it to the kids

A trip to Denver to watch young Pagosans compete at the state wrestling championships gives us reason to reflect on the value of youth activities in our community and the need for those activities to remain viable in times when many citizens are opposed to financial support of all manner of institutions and programs.

The Pepsi Center in Denver is the scene of what is arguably the largest of Colorado’s school kid sports championship events and it makes the meaning of youth programs very clear. Athletes from four classes compete over the course of three days, the stands teeming with parents and fans. The final night of the event is one of the great high school sport spectacles, with more than 12,000 fans in the stands and wrestlers battling for championships, their matches conducted on four mats isolated on the floor of the massive arena.

When a wrestler finds himself in a match in the Pepsi Center, in nearly all cases, the young man worked at least six years to rise to the top of the ranks – to be one of 16 at his weight to make the trip to state. He worked hard in the off-season, attended camps and, in many cases, traveled to compete at tournaments. He persisted, when so many begged off. And so did his teammates who competed through their senior year and failed to make it to the big meet. That persistence and dedication is to be admired and encouraged.

We can say the same for all our kids who participate in school sports.

Tonight and tomorrow night, Pagosa’s boys’ and girls’ basketball teams host the Intermountain League tournament, each with a good chance to advance in state playoff action. Most of the players participate in off-season programs. Two young Pagosa swimmers recently competed at the state 5A swim championships. Pagosa does not have a team, so local swimmers are members of Durango’s swim team. These athletes work hard during the summer, swimming for the local club team.

A young woman from Pagosa recently won a rodeo award. Local ski racers compete at regional events. Gymnasts have brought home medals from meets around the state, as have young club swimmers. There are many sport programs established for youngsters of all ages in this community — soccer, baseball, volleyball and basketball among them.

In non-sport activities, Pagosa’s youngsters excel in Destination Imagination competitions, with expectations high that a local team will again advance to the national event. Youngsters involved in music regularly qualify for state honor bands and choral groups. Young artists and musicians participate in the Fine Arts Magnet Academy program and produce laudable work. There are outdoor education and art activities provided during the summer months. Local Scouting programs are strong and the 4-H program currently has 180 kids enrolled, with a major fund-raiser underway. The new Pagosa Youth Center provides programs for local kids.

The bottom line for all the youngsters who participate in sport, who play a musical instrument, sing, dance, act and make works of art: Those who excel work hard and long to achieve what they do.

We have an obligation to continue to support their programs, to provide options, in school and out, in which kids are asked to cultivate the character and work habits we desire in good citizens.

We can do this in many ways: by supporting community organizations and programs with donations; by demanding that extracurricular activities continue to be a part of school programming — with equal attention and per capita funding given to sporting and non-sport activities. If fees become a factor in sport participation, we must find ways for individuals and groups to fill the gaps for those students who cannot afford to pay. We can press for completion of the skate park project and encourage all local programs by donating funds and time whenever possible.

We owe it to the kids.