Youth sports are dying across America.
It has become an estimated $17 billion industry thriving on the pocketbooks of upper-class families eager to set their child on the right path — namely, the path to a college scholarship, according to a 2018 study by The Aspen Institute.
So what about the families that can’t afford the rising costs associated with youth sports?
In Colorado Springs, Hillside Connection and founder Terrell Brown are coming off the bench to help disadvantaged youth.
Hillside Connection provides a unique opportunity to bring topnotch basketball training, volunteer opportunities and enrichment activities to children and families in southern Colorado Springs free of charge.
“It takes a village to raise a kid and right now with the state of the world, I feel as if every kid, no matter where they come from, needs access to quality sport, and that's not the case in America,” Brown said. “How can we make sure those talents don't get swept by the streets? I think sports is that great tool to bring people together and empower a community.”
But free and recreational sports like the programs offered by Hillside Connection are disappearing rapidly.
According to The Aspen Institute’s Project Play, just 12% of households in the U.S. do not spend money on their child’s sport, while the national annual cost per sport exceeds $690 for ages 1-18, with some families paying up to $35,000 per year. Locally, high school parents spend on average $3,500 on athletics annually, according to responses to a Gazette survey sent out in the summer of 2019.
In addition to the physiological benefit youth sports provides, the Aspen Institute study also notes that children who are physically active score up to 40% higher on standardized tests, are 15% more likely to go to college and earn, on average, 7-8% more annually.
But families that cannot afford youth sports, including lower-income households, may not see the benefits that these activities provide, which could spark a generational decline in athletic participation as costs continue to rise.
Just 27.5% of children from homes making under $25,000 a year will regularly participate in sport, compared to 45.5% of children from families with incomes greater than $100,000.
Hillside Connection has received support from a number of local businesses and community partners to help serve over 170 children annually.
“In order to serve the masses it takes dollars, so we have a pool of donors from different walks of life, contributing whatever they can to help us further the cause,” Brown said.