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Kicking the habit with Youth Crew
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Team Sanchez’s first kicker connects with the ball in their opening match-up at Saturday afternoon’s tournament. Team Sanchez went on to win their match-up with Team Figueroa. - photo by Daniel Kiewel

Nearly 100 area youth got their kicks in for a good cause Saturday afternoon at the Great Bend Sports Complex as the Central Kansas Partnership’s Youth Crew hosted their inaugural, “Let’s Kick the Habit” kickball tournament.

The youth-led effort was planned and organized by members of Youth Crew, a task force of about 10 students from sixth through 12th grade from Hoisington and Great Bend, to help bring awareness to the mental health risks to young people of “vaping,” or inhaling of electronic smokeless tobacco products.

Under sunny spring skies, ten teams of between 10 and 12 middle and high school students battled it out for top honors at the Sports Complex as upbeat music suitable for a bright spring day provided an upbeat soundtrack for the event. The competition was separated into middle school and high school divisions.

In addition to Youth Crew, representatives from the #ZeroReasonsWhy Sucide Prevention, Rise Up Central Kansas drug and alcohol prevention task forces, the Center for Counseling and Kansas Children’s Service League were also represented at the day’s event. Luna the Therapy Dog also made her rounds at the day’s festivities.

Marissa Woodmansee, Juvenile Services Director for the 20th Judicial District, was pleased with both the weather for the event and the turnout for the first year event.

The day’s action wasn’t just on the field, though. Jumbo lawn games such as Jenga and Connect Four were available for the young competitors awaiting their chance to compete.

Winners for the event were: 6th to 8th grade, Team Bombers, and 9th to 12th grade, Team Sanchez.

How the tournament came about

Katelyn Sigler, who heads up the Chronic Disease Risk Reduction Grant Program with the Barton County Health Department, said the effort began with the receipt of a mini-grant of $300 through the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. The grant was specifically geared toward promoting awareness of the mental health impacts of vaping in youth.

Youth Crew’s student leadership team decided a kickball tournament would be a good way to promote that awareness in the community. From there, Sigler said the effort to organize and promote the tournament was entirely student-led, and has been in the works for about four months. Youth Crew members have done everything from designing promotional flyers, to producing educational materials on vaping, to planning a location for the tournament. 

The mini-grant helped fund educational materials, medals, fliers, and social media promotion.

In addition, several entities contributed to the effort. The City of Great Bend donated usage time at the Sports Complex, and the Great Bend Recreation Commission donated staff supervision, in accordance with Sports Complex facility usage policies. USD 428 also allowed the group to hang flyers in the schools promoting the event. KDHE donated T-shirts for the event through CDRR grant funds.

Sigler and Woodmansee recognized the generosity of local entities in allowing use of the fields, and as the inaugural event on the newly turfed Sports Complex fields, Sigler said the goal is to be the best possible stewards of the newly-upgraded facilities. Accordingly, each team was accompanied by an adult sponsor.

Though the event was only open to youth sixth through 12th grade this year, because of  positive feedback the tournament may be opened to adults in the future, Woodmansee said.

More about Youth Crew

Woodmansee said Youth Crew is a youth-led initiative that gives students a voice to promote healthy habits in themselves, their homes and their communities.

It also gives them a voice on larger issues such as vaping, Woodmanee said, which is an increasing problem in youth as young as sixth grade.

Though a primary goal of the tournament was to raise awareness among youth, Woodmansee said the group hoped it would also be an opportunity to reach and engage parents on the issue, as well.

“If the parents are aware (of the issue), then they can have those honest conversations with their children,” said Woodmansee.

The tournament is also part of a larger goal of Youth Crew of promoting youth community activism. Previous activities, for example, have included service projects for the City of Great Bend and Boxes of Love with the United Way of Central Kansas.

“(We want) to let them have that avenue to give back, that they may not otherwise have,” Woodmansee said.

Beyond just giving the students a voice, they also hope to give the students an avenue to build their confidence, as well.

“Some of the kids don’t have that confidence to speak out and talk about what they feel that needs to be changed in their community,” Sigler said. “This group kind of just pulls it back in saying, you can talk about whatever here and we’re here to help you make change.”

“We know that kids are still going to be exposed (to vaping), but if we can help one, get them in a positive pro social environment, it’s going to be worth it,” Woodmansee said.

To help the group expand, Barton County Juvenile Services recently hired a dedicated Drug Free Communities coordinator, Tyler Morton.

As the group expands, it is planning other awareness events in the near future, with the goal being to have a promotional activity each month.