||Schofield Hall 218|
||Eau Claire, WI 54702-4004|
MAILED: Feb. 9, 1999|
A program that serves hundreds of Chippewa Valley youth each summer received national recognition in January as it was named the top program of its kind in the country.
The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire's National Youth Sports Program received the Silvio O. Conte Award of Excellence from the national NYSP organization. The award which recognizes an institution for providing an exceptional NYSP program and exemplary community service was presented to UW-Eau Claire officials during a January ceremony in Florida.
"It was a very emotional moment," Diane Gilbertson, NYSP activities director since the program started at UW-Eau Claire 19 years ago, said of receiving the national honor. "It was overwhelming. There was a standing ovation and my knees were shaking. I knew we were getting it but it was still emotional."
NYSP is a five-week program for children aged 10-16 from economically disadvantaged families. The program is funded through a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services grant and administered through the National Collegiate Athletic Association. The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction provides additional monies for food services.
The funding ensures that each boy and girl will receive free sports instruction and educational classes along with transportation, breakfast and lunch, a T-shirt and a physical examination.
"(UW-Eau Claire's) efforts included a hands-on commitment from the university, excellent instruction, superb directions and exceptionally high standards among the NYSP staff, a high degree of technique, skill and coordination in the activity program, and an upbeat and challenging educational program that participants looked forward to daily," Michael Alden, chair of the NYSP executive committee, said when presenting Chancellor Donald Mash with the award. "To describe this year's recipient's program in one word outstanding."
While the national attention was rewarding, it doesn't compare to the satisfaction Gilbertson gets when she sees former NYSP participants on campus several years later as university students.
"I see some students come here and I know they are here because of NYSP," Gilbertson said, adding that of the 30 camp counselors last summer, nine were former NYSP participants. "Others I see around Eau Claire and they have good jobs. There are lots of success stories and it's those stories that make it so satisfying."
UW-Eau Claire started an NYSP program in 1981 when William Harms joined its staff. Harms, NYSP program administrator, had observed NYSP programs at other universities and proposed bringing such a program to the Chippewa Valley.
The first year was difficult because UW-Eau Claire learned late in the process that it had been approved as an NYSP site, leaving Gilbertson and Harms just weeks to pull it together. It was tough to recruit participants and even tougher to find staff and facilities, Harms said, adding that space was so scarce that medical physicals were conducted in the staff's offices. "The first year was shaky," said Harms. "But by the third year, everything clicked and it took off."
Efforts to recruit staff and participants is now almost a year-round process, Gilbertson said, adding that a liaison officer helps recruit youths for the program. And programs are always being reworked as new ideas and opportunities present themselves, such as the inclusion of the university's new ropes course in the 1998 curriculum.
"When people hear sports program, many think that we just have kids bounce a ball around and then send them home," Harms said. "There is quite a bit more to it than that."
The program's extensive medical examinations turned up more than 900 conditions that had previously been undetected in the nearly 500 participants, Gilbertson said, noting that vision problems were most common. The math/science programs, as well as educational components that deal with alcohol and other drugs, nutrition, higher education and career choices, also are key NYSP components. And the structured sports activities emphasize instruction, competition, physical fitness and lifetime sports.
While there are 80 mandatory guidelines that all NYSP programs must meet, UW-Eau Claire's program goes well beyond the requirements, Harms said.
UW-Eau Claire's NYSP staff is exceptional, Gilbertson said. Public school teachers from the area teach most academic sessions, and UW-Eau Claire alumni and current students often serve as counselors and in other staff positions.
"Our program is successful because we have a staff who really cares about these kids," Gilbertson said. "We're lucky because we get many of these same people back year after year."
Parents love the program because they know their kids are in a safe place, exercising their minds as well as their bodies, Gilbertson said. NYSP organizers try to include parents in the camp in ways such as hosting a family picnic at the end.
"Parents tell us all the time that they'd be lost without it," Gilbertson said. "They know their kids are safe and that they're getting an excellent opportunity. They know from 8:30 to 3:30 Monday through Friday that their kids are getting instruction, getting meals and are being supervised."
UW-Eau Claire has won NYSP Meritorious Awards in 1997, 1996, 1995, 1994, 1993 and 1988. Those awards are given to the top five projects of the 189 administered by the NCAA.
Janice B. Wisner
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Updated: Feb. 9, 1999