JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas — U.S. Air Force Youth Sports and Fitness programs have been recognized with top awards from the National Alliance for Youth Sports.
- The Hurlburt Field, Florida, Youth Sports Program won one of five Excellence in Youth Sports Awards.
- Staff Sgt. Matthew Szaban, a tactical doctrine manager on Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, was chosen as the NAYS Coach of the Year.
- Tech. Sgt. Jonathon Washington, geospatial intelligence chief with the U.S. Central Command on MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, was chosen as the NAYS Parent of the Year.
“The way the Hurlburt staff operates its youth sports programs is a great model for others to follow, as they focus on developing well-rounded children who embrace physical activity and understand the importance of good sportsmanship, as well as other key characteristics like honesty, integrity and perseverance,” said Lisa Licata, NAYS senior director of professional administrators. “The motto at Hurlburt is ‘having fun with a purpose.’ So not only do the youngsters in the program get to enjoy playing sports but they are also learning valuable life skills that will help enable them to lead successful lives.”
More than 150 organizations applied for the excellence award this year. Twenty were invited to participate in the final round review. Five other Air Force programs were designated as finalists: Dyess AFB, Texas; Hill AFB, Utah; Moody AFB, Georgia; RAF Mildenhall, England; and Vandenberg AFB, California.
“We, Air Force Child and Youth Programs, are excited we swept all three awards. This is a first in Air Force history, and it truly demonstrates the quality of programming we provide to our children and youth,” said Patti Mehrens, chief of the Air Force Services Activity (AFSVA) Child and Youth Programs Division.
The AFSVA oversees Air Force youth programs, providing guidance and assistance to program managers. Air Force youth programs are nationally accredited, staffed by professionals and certified by the Department of Defense annually.
“Youth Sports and Fitness Programs meet the Air Force’s goal to strengthen families and build ready and resilient big ‘A’ Airmen by engaging children, youth, teens and their families to maintain a healthy lifestyle by offering fitness resources. Youth sports coaches are the foundation for our league sports program. We believe those coaches, who are trained and certified, are educated on the many different aspects involved with coaching our children and youth, provide them with a fun-filled, safe and rewarding experience,” Mehrens said.
Coach Szaban, a 12-year Air Force veteran, is a volunteer with a passion for teaching, molding and inspiring kids to be great not only in sports, but also in life, Licata said.
“Through the years he has coached flag and tackle football, track, basketball, T-ball, baseball and soccer. His practices are challenging and filled with fun. He stresses the fundamentals, working hard, knowing the rules and competing as a team,” she said. “A devoted husband and father of three, he also somehow finds the time to volunteer at a veterans hospital, a Ronald McDonald House and at local schools where he tutors children having difficulty with their studies.”
Washington is a single father of a teenage daughter and preteen son.
“He tirelessly gives his time to help children and the sports programs any way he can. He volunteers to help prepare and maintain the base’s soccer, flag football and baseball fields. He served as the soccer commissioner this past season for the program’s 200 participants,” Licata said. “He has instilled in his children the value of helping others and being difference makers within the community, which they have embraced by visiting with the elderly, reading to young kids and participating in clean-up projects.”
The awards were presented Nov. 8 during the 16th annual Youth Sports Congress in Orlando, Florida. The congress is a four-day educational event for youth sports administrators that includes training to maintain or earn NAYS certification. NAYS establishes national standards for operating youth sports programs. The standards include maintaining child-centered policies and philosophies; choosing, screening and training volunteers; ensuring parents provide positive support; and providing a safe playing environment.
Attendees include youth sports professionals and volunteers; parks and recreation professionals; and military youth sports directors.
“During our 16th annual NAYS Youth Sports Congress in Orlando, all of the award winners will be recognized during a special session on Nov. 8 that kicks off the conference. Plus, they will have the opportunity to share some of their insights on stage on how they run their youth sports programs and connect with kids that Congress attendees from around the world will be able to learn from and use in their own communities,” Licata said before the conference.
For more information on AF Youth Sports Programs, see www.myairforcelife.com.