On the surface, the National Youth Sports Program sounds like a perfect bull's-eye for federal budget cutters to target. After all, Uncle Sam need not be in the business of youth athletic programs that the private sector has organized, managed and funded for decades.
On closer inspection, however, NYSP fills an important underserved niche and produces benefits for disadvantaged young people that stretch far beyond the soccer field. It's well worth preserving.
Thus far, however, funding for the summer program looks like a sure loser.
The proposed $1.95 trillion federal budget that passed the U.S. House earlier this summer eliminates NYSP funding for the first time in the program's 37-year history and thereby threatens it with extinction.
It's now up to U.S. senators to recognize that NYSP has benefited about 2 million American youngsters 10 to 16 years old in athletic and educational skill-building. It should be restored to the Department of Health and Human Services' projects for 2006.
About the program
The nonprofit program allows 75,000 disadvantaged boys and girls throughout the nation to attend a five-week sports camp each summer at a host university. In the Mahoning Valley, NYSP has operated at Youngstown State University for the past 11 summers. This summer, the program has attracted about 300 youth.
"This program is good for the children, because it keeps them off the streets of Youngstown and out of trouble," Natalie Scott, NYSP community liaison at YSU, said.
To be sure, NYSP repels inner-city youth from gangs and other anti-social influences. It does so, in part, through organized competitive sports programs that otherwise would be unavailable to them. But NYSP is more than a Little League camp. Sports serves as an attractive hook to draw young people into its other valuable components:
UInstruction in career and educational opportunities and exposure to a college environment. NYSP children are placed in academic settings at colleges and universities and receive at least three hours of instruction in the benefits of higher education.
UFree medical examinations and follow-ups.
UPrograms that teach abstinence from alcohol and drugs.
UMentoring programs that include hands-on, interactive activities in math and science, plus tips on building skills for standardized test taking.
Despite such pluses, the NYSP will struggle to escape the Senate's ax. Given congressional priorities on spending for defense and anti-terror initiatives and for continuing federal tax cuts, senators may perceive NYSP as an obscure line item that could easily be deleted with few taking note.
The program's growth, endurance and success, however, defy obscurity. The thousands of young people who count on NYSP each summer would surely miss it. Its relatively low cost in federal dollars is matched two to three times over by local support in all 202 communities it serves.
The Senate is now not expected to consider funding for NYSP until it returns from summer recess after Labor Day. That provides ample time for spreading the word that the program merits survival.