By Madeline Marcelia Garvin
Special to Frost Illustrated
Stop complaining about not having anything to do since school is no longer in session for the summer. There are numerous things to do in Fort Wayne aside from going to an array of summer festivals. One thing for youth aged 8-18 to do, which is loads of fun is participating in Fort Wayne’s Parks and Recreation phenomenal Lifetime Sports Academy, which has been in operation for 15 years at McMillen Park and commenced immediately the week school dismissed for vacation.
This program spearheaded by community leader/philanthropist Tom Jehl along with former Fort Wayne resident Payne Brown, Esq. is now and has been under the direction of Tom Hogan, Wayne High School teacher and track coach. Because I grew up attending Dallas Lake Y.W.C.A. Camp, where I took tennis lessons and learned to swim, I decided to take time to talk to Hogan about the city’s gem of a summer program for youth and see how many youth are actually “in the swim of things”.
Hogan, who graduated from IU-Bloomington with a Bachelor’s in HPER and a Master’s in administration shared that the LTSA’s major goal is to get youth involved in three sports: golf, swimming and tennis, because one can essentially participate in one or more of these activities throughout one’s life. Though the program has averaged 1600 a year; realistically this year’s numbers will be around 1400-1500. Those who are involved come from all over Allen County, and the learn to swim program is a huge success. Though golf tends to attract many participants, all three sports programs do exceedingly well.
Hogan manages a staff of twenty-two along with a number of volunteers who bring with them all forms of expertise in their particular area. Aside from focusing on the aforementioned three sports, youth who are there all day have the opportunity to take part in low organized games in the pavilion along with soccer, volleyball and softball if they so desire. That which is unique to the program is the opportunity for participants who come thru the ranks to be junior leaders at the age of 16, for according to Hogan, “They like to hire from within.”
Tennis Coach Ron Barnes who graduated from Indiana State University with a Bachelor’s in HPER and IPFW with a Master’s in Secondary Education said, “This is an “A+” program for youth in the community and area”. Barnes, who is certified with the USPTA in tennis, has been with the LTSA since its inception in 1998, and indicated that which is great is the program offers outstanding instruction free of charge and the young people enjoy it. Aside from this, all intermediate and advanced tennis programs are open to youth who have passed the tennis skills and earned their rackets.
Golf supervisor Don Jones who teaches Physical Education at New Haven Middle School echoes Barnes regarding the success of this seven weeks program. Jones, who received his Bachelor’s and Master’s from Indiana University, has been with Lifetime Sports for 14 years, and he is extremely passionate about it. That which is most interesting regarding the golf program is how it is structured. Students are given tests on woods, irons, putting, chipping and pitching in order to earn their clubs. Depending on the size of the youth, each will receive a ½ set of junior and adult size clubs. After the youth earn clubs, they have the opportunity to play the Par 3 Course and can later participate in the Bogie, Par and Eagle Clubs once they have passed all the golf rules and skills tests.
Some outstanding youth have gone through these programs; namely: the entire New Haven Boys and Girls Golf Teams as well as a recent Heritage graduate who went on to State in Golf and Canterbury’s Leah Barnes who went to State in Tennis for both her freshman and sophomore years. As Jones further points out, that which is marvelous is these youth who work as leaders in the program develop a strong work ethic and have wonderful personalities. Because of her dedication and three year commitment to the program, Michelle Fox received one of two half tuition scholarships to Saint Francis University, from which she graduated in nursing and is now employed as a nurse at Parkview Memorial Hospital.
All the youth I spoke with enjoy the program immensely; even the granddaughters of Dr. Shirley Phifer-Smith, who hail from Alabama, enjoy their tennis lessons with Coach Barnes and look forward to earning their gear as well as interacting with friends during the free lunch time in the main pavilion. Tennis aficionados Perrin Hansen and Brenden Warnick look forward to their daily workouts and enjoy assisting the younger ones; thus, for them it is a win-win situation, enhancing their skills and sharing their knowledge.
So, if you are still looking for something to do,, which won’t cost a thing, get with the Lifetime Sports Academy Program at McMillen Park from now until July 26th , Monday – Friday 9:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. It’s loads of fun; you earn free gear, get free food, and “the price is right”!
This article originally appeared in the July 10 print edition.