The tradition of fathers coaching sons in Rep. Mike McIntyre’s (D-N.C.) family goes back a couple of generations. McIntyre’s dad was his baseball coach growing up, the son winning a Lumberton, N.C., league championship in 1968. The Congressman then coached his boys for seven years in baseball and basketball.
Now one of McIntyre’s sons, a recent college graduate, has started a citywide church basketball league in their hometown. You can assume that if the Congressman becomes a grandfather, the trend will continue.
Given the positive experiences he and his family have had in athletics, McIntyre is taking the lead with the first-ever “Youth Sports Legislative Package.”
“The largest organization for young people in America already exists. It doesn’t have to be created,” McIntyre said. “Forty-five million American children are already involved in organized sports, so through the Congressional Caucus on Youth Sports, which I co-chair, our goal is to promote the positive aspects in youth sports and recreation and build on those and augment them.”
The seven-bill package includes three funding requests in fiscal 2008 appropriations for programs President Bush has sought to eliminate or scale back. While each bill has been introduced separately, McIntyre is overseeing the overall package.
The National Youth Sports Program is one target. Funding for the program, which offers summer camps for low-income children and boasts the NBA’s LeBron James as an alumnus, fell from $18 million in 2005 to nothing last year, forcing the program to rely on unused funds from previous years.
The number of cities and schools offering camps has dropped by about 75 percent over that period. Members seeking to restore funding for the NYSP include Reps. Ron Kind (D-Wis.), who was a quarterback at Harvard, and Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.), who had two hits to help the GOP take home the coveted Roll Call trophy in this year’s annual Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game.
Also endangered is the Carol M. White Physical Education Program, which was authorized in 2001 as part of the No Child Left Behind Act and provides grants for school and community physical education programs, equipment and staff. It is the only federal PE program, according to Sheila Franklin, director of the National Coalition for Promoting Physical Activity.
Bush has attempted to eliminate the program for three consecutive years, Franklin said, but Congress has resisted. She hopes to keep funding for the program at $73 million next year, with the eventual goal of raising it to $200 million.
Although increasing fitness and combating child obesity are important goals of the bills, McIntyre and others at an event highlighting the package last week said social benefits are important, too.
“Character development is key,” McIntyre said. “In the game of life, people need to know how to accept victory and defeat. That’s a lesson that you carry for a lifetime — knowing how to treat others with respect, learning humility, knowing how to deal with life’s unexpected terms.”
One impetus for the package was a 2006 report card issued by the Citizenship Through Sports Alliance that analyzed sports in America for children age 6 to 14. Parental behavior/involvement was rated at D-plus and coaching at C-plus.
That was only marginally better than the woeful 2005 report card that sparked McIntyre to start the youth sports caucus.
“We were finding a great deficiency with regard to character development and ways that referees and umpires were being treated,” McIntyre said. “Irate parents … the experience for kids was not as good as it’s supposed to be.”
Another part of the package, the Personal Health Investment Today Act, would expand pre-tax medical and health savings accounts to allow up to $1,000 a year for exercise programs and equipment. The money could be used to pay for league fees or gym memberships.
The measure was introduced by Rep. Jerry Weller (R-Ill.) and referred to the Ways and Means Committee, on which Weller sits.
The package’s final appropriations request is $100 million for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which gives matching grants to states and local communities for acquisition and development of parks and recreation facilities.
McIntyre said the legislative package is the first Congress ever has had solely devoted to youth sports.
“The message from the report card,” he said, “was that we need a coordinated Congressional response.”