City commissioners and political hopefuls running for mayor and the open North Ward commission seat this year want city recreation programs to be back in the hands of this port municipality. The city ceded control of the programs when renegotiating with the county a fair division of the local option sales tax. Management of city youth sports and other recreation programs went to Glynn County.

Commissioners now say they do not like what they see, which is low participation of city youth in athletic and other recreation programs. Obviously they blame the county for that.

Here’s something they should consider before pointing fingers at anyone: youth participation in sports has been declining for years nationwide. Obesity is up among children while the desire to be part of a football, baseball, basketball or soccer team is down.

A 2019 study conducted by the Aspen Institute and Utah State University found that youth today find no fun in playing sports. Physical contact is out and electronic competition — games — is in. Popular video games like Fortnite and Call of Duty are taking the place of running laps around the football field or basketball court.

Sitting comfortably down in front of a computer in an indoor, air-conditioned environment is far more appealing than exercising and sweating in outdoor heat. Reflect for a moment on the number of youth visible playing outdoors these days. Neighborhoods and city streets that once vibrated with active youth are almost like ghost towns in the 21st century.

None of this technology was available during the heyday of youth participation, of course. The number of boys and girls whose parents signed them up for recreation programs in the past reflects the absence of electronic distractions. Even daytime TV wasn’t much to look at back then.

City officials also should consider the growth of middle school sports. It is a convenient time and place for sports- and activities-minded preteens and teens.

Yes, there are studies that attribute this issue to poverty, to the cost of programs and necessary equipment for safe competition. All of this can be waived for any child whose family is unable to pay. Team sponsors also are understanding and will handle these situations quietly and generously.

What the mayor and city commission ought to do to if they really want to improve participation is become a partner. Why not talk up athletics and other recreation programs in schools and after-school programs attended by the sons and daughters of city residents? Arrange transportation where it is a problem.

That would be far more effective in luring children back to recreation programs than declaring next month or next year that City Hall is now in charge of youth programs at Howard Coffin Park.

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