Play on

$2 million in annual Youth Sports grants help young people stay active

Youth Sports funding provides places to play

A replica of the Edmund Pettus Bridge. A staircase of stacked books by African American authors. A climbable mountaintop adorned with quotes from Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

These are not part of an exhibit in a marbled museum or elements of a Washington D.C. monument. They are features found on a children’s playground in the heart of south Minneapolis.

Thanks to the help of Hennepin County Youth Sports grants, organizations and local government bodies are working together to create places and opportunities for young people to be active, stay fit and do what comes naturally to all kids – play. The initiative is driven by the belief that a vital county provides access to healthy and safe activities for its young people.

Honoring a legacy

At Martin Luther King Jr. Park on Minneapolis’ Nicollet Avenue, imaginative play is paired with interactive learning through custom built playground installations that honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and that celebrate important African American history.

The playground was the vision of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Legacy Council, which, in turn, partnered with community members, local artists, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board and other funders to bring it to fruition. It was precisely the kind of project Hennepin County aims to support through its Youth Sports grant program.

The program, established through a provision written into the Twins ballpark sales tax, has made a positive difference for communities throughout the county. It has helped replace empty lots with soccer fields, erect a multipurpose dome to let kids to play during winter months, create a wheelchair-friendly baseball diamond, develop a state-of-the-art community pool and much, much more.

A great success

Since 2009, more than $15 million in Youth Sports grants have been distributed to 93 capital projects and 137 equipment and small asset projects. Plus, additional money from the Twins ballpark tax has extended hours at library locations throughout the county.

Each year, the county accepts applications for capital and equipment grants. The Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission, a state agency, provides expert review of applications and recommends award recipients to the county board. This year, the program will feature a distinct spring grant round dedicated solely to playground development, like the project at Martin Luther King Jr. Park.

"I think the program is a great success,” said Commissioner Peter McLaughlin. “It helps to make the lives of our young people that much better and gives them a better shot at growing up well.”