Slam dunk, pirouette, home run and splash

Youth programs abound in Sealy

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When the YMCA announced in August 2018 that it would no longer be operating programs in Sealy, there was some initial panic that youth activities would no longer be available.

But the community pulled together, and volunteers came out of the woodwork to make sure local youth have Little League, ballet classes and Little Dribblers. A karate instructor also is interested in starting classes in the area.

Little League was never really much of a concern because more than 30 teams have played in Sealy for 50 years under the leadership of devoted parents and community members.

“It did expand several years back and now there’s a softball,” said Joel Grigar, who has served as the League president for three years. “It’s a great game; it’s a great thing in general. You’re learning a lot of physical skills but also a lot of social skills.”

The League is entirely volunteer-based and relies heavily on donations, such as a recent $400,000-plus check from the Chapman Foundation.

“We would not be doing the work we’re doing if not for them,” Grigar said. “It only works because we have so many people contributing.”

The Little League season kicks off with a community-wide parade March 23 and runs through May.

And once school is out, kids want to head to the pool.

The city hired Katy-based Aquatico Pool Management to oversee the Irene LeBlanc swimming pool at Cryan Park and has been pleased with the services they’ve provided, including hiring, training and managing lifeguards and covering their insurance. Almost all of the staff worked at the pool previously and are Sealy residents, officials have said. The cost to the city to contract with Aquatico is about $36,280 per year.

Jeff Seabolt, CEO of Aquatico, said his staff will be responsible for taking head counts to ensure that their numbers match up with the money that comes in. The company, which has 400 lifeguards and manages 45 properties, has been in business for a decade, Seabolt added.

“We’re honored to take on this contract,” he told the city council. “My main goal is to make sure these facilities stay safe.”

While the decision to back out ruffled some feathers, most local officials are content to stay positive going forward and focus on the great programs that are being offered.

The school district issued a request for qualifications for a new after-school program and opted to go with “After 3” because they “felt that it provided a better option for our families,” according to Superintendent Sheryl Moore.

“Not only do they provide affordable after school care, they also offer before-school care on-site, a service that many of our parents need,” Moore said. “The additional flexibility provided by this option made the After 3 proposal more attractive than what was proposed by the YMCA, so we went with them.”

When contacted for this article, city officials declined comment, saying there are numerous youth programs being operated by local volunteers but they are not under city supervision or using city facilities.

Flag football, karate, Little Dribblers, Little League and dance classes all operated before the YMCA came to town and will continue to go on, city officials have said, although start-up of some of the programs may be slow.

Marsha Merrell, wife of City Manager Lloyd Merrell, has taken on youth dancing classes, partnering with the Special Needs program at Sealy ISD and teaching ballet to students of all ages. The local youth have embraced the program, even performing in “A Chance to Dance” recital in December.

“For the past 25 years, I have wanted to do a program like ‘A Chance to Dance,’” Marsha Merrell said. “Sealy ISD Director of Special Education Sarah Magee so graciously accepted my offer, pro bono, to implement the program into the SISD curriculum. I have always, in my heart, being the mother of six kids and sibling to five, believed that children – ALL children – are mentally, spiritually, physically and emotionally capable of so much more than what is expected of them.”

Merrell wasn’t the only community volunteer to step up.

Sealy High School girls’ basketball Coach Anthony Branch and Assistant Coach Danielle Eschenburg are taking on Little Dribblers.

“I have to give so much credit to Danielle Eschenburg,” Branch said. “She created the flyer and organized our draft and now we have 230 kids playing. We’d love to have a few more girls; we’ve got a ton of boys.”

The process involves securing school gyms for games on Saturdays. The city ordered some basketballs but the teams are still in need of portable goals. Coaches Jason Luckett and Ray Dabney are helping out with other tasks, such as scheduling referees.

“We’re rolling,” Branch said. “There’s going to be some things that we’ll run into, like we forgot about that or didn’t think about that. We need to sit down and talk about the rules.”

The first game of the season was scheduled for Jan. 12, and Branch maintains that it’s important to train the local youth because those are the kids that ultimately will be playing for him at the high school level.

“I’m looking forward to see how this thing develops. “I would tell the parents to be patient. I want this to become a community effort. I stepped up became part of the community, bought a house. Eventually we’ll just be in an advisory role. The thing I want to do is we’re not taking any money. We’re trying to create a basketball program. We want this community, everybody to pitch in. We’ve got to get more girls.”

It’s also important, he said to have kids get to know how to play the game.

“There are some kids who are going to fall in love with the sport immediately,” he said. “I watched the game, I loved it. I played in by backyard. We had dunk contests. It’s just an introduction to the game. They know what dribbling is. They know right- and left-hand layups, the right way to shoot. I want to get these kids in gear so they can hear the same words and the same terminology so when they get to high school they’re not lost. We’re trying to grow the game. If there’s a kid who wants to play at the next level, I want them to have that opportunity. I think that’s our job as coaches.”

The bottom line, according to dance teacher Marsha Merrell, is that with help, encouragement, emotional understanding and confidence in young people, they are able to reach new heights.

“It is such a joy to observe,” she said. “Their smiles are an outward reflection of their inward happiness. I am so blessed, honored and humbled to be part of their lives.”

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