Nearly 100 local youth kicked off for a good cause Saturday afternoon at the Great Bend Sports Complex as the Central Kansas Partnership Youth Team held its first “Let’s Kick the Habit” kickball tournament.
The youth-led effort was planned and organized by members of Youth Crew, a task force of around 10 students in grades six to 12 from Hoisington and Great Bend, to help educate young people about the risks of “vaping” for mental health. or inhaling electronic smokeless tobacco products.
Under sunny spring skies, ten teams of 10-12 middle and high school students battled it out for top honors at the Sports Complex, while upbeat music suited to a beautiful spring day provided a rousing soundtrack for the event. . The competition was separated into middle school and high school divisions.
In addition to Youth Crew, representatives from the #ZeroReasonsWhy Suicide Prevention, Rise Up Central Kansas working groups on drug and alcohol prevention, the Center for Counseling and the Kansas Children’s Service League were also represented at the event of the day. Luna the Therapy Dog also toured during the day’s festivities.
Marissa Woodmansee, director of juvenile services 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 pitch, however. Giant lawn games such as Jenga and Connect Four were available for young contestants waiting for their chance to compete.
How the tournament was born
Katelyn Sigler, who leads the Chronic Disease Risk Reduction Grant Program with the Barton County Health Department, said the effort began with the receipt of a $300 mini-grant from the through the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. The grant was specifically aimed at promoting awareness of the mental health effects of vaping among young people.
The Youth Crew student leadership team decided that a kickball tournament would be a good way to promote this awareness in the community. From there, Sigler said the effort to organize and promote the tournament was entirely student-led and had been in the works for about four months. Members of the youth team did everything from designing promotional flyers, to producing vaping education materials, to planning a venue for the tournament.
The mini-grant helped fund educational materials, medals, flyers, and social media promotion.
In addition, several entities have contributed to the effort. The City of Great Bend donated time to use the Sports Complex and the Great Bend Recreation Commission donated staff supervision in accordance with the Sports Complex Facility Use Policies. $428 also allowed the group to hang flyers in schools to promote the event. KDHE donated T-shirts for the event with grant funds from CDRR.
Sigler and Woodmansee recognized the generosity of local entities in allowing use of the grounds, and as the inaugural event on the newly grassed sports complex grounds, Sigler said the goal was to be the best possible stewards of the newly renovated facilities. Thus, each team was accompanied by an adult sponsor.
Although the event was only open to youth in grades 6 through 12 this year, due to positive feedback, the tournament may be open to adults in the future, Woodmansee said.
Learn more about the youth crew
Woodmansee said Youth Crew is a youth-led initiative that gives students a voice to promote healthy habits in themselves, in their homes and in their communities.
It also gives them a voice on larger issues such as vaping, said Woodmanee, which is a growing issue among young people as young as sixth grade.
While one of the main goals of the tournament is to educate young people, Woodmansee said the group hopes it will also be an opportunity to reach out and engage parents on the issue.
“If parents are aware (of the issue), then they can have these honest conversations with their kids,” Woodmansee said.
The tournament is also part of a larger Youth Crew goal to promote youth community activism. Previous activities, for example, have included service projects for the City of Great Bend and Boxes of Love with United Way of Central Kansas.
“(We want) to give them that opportunity to give back, which they might not otherwise have,” Woodmansee said.
Beyond just giving students a voice, they also hope to give them a way to build their confidence.
“Some of the kids don’t have the confidence to speak up and talk about what they think needs to change in their community,” Sigler said. “This group kind of comes back saying, you can talk about anything here and we’re here to help you make changes.”
“We know kids are always going to be exposed (to vaping), but if we can help one, put them in a positive, pro-social environment, it will be worth it,” Woodmansee said.
To help the group grow, Barton County Juvenile Services recently hired a dedicated Drug-Free Communities Coordinator, Tyler Morton.
As the group grows, they are planning more outreach events in the near future, with the goal of having promotional activity every month.
Today’s tournament winners were unavailable at press time.