VIDEO and TEXT: Page Kern and Dana Wallace run a successful Juniors after-school program in Windom, Minnesota.
The Windom, Minn., Parks and Rec director visited with me concerning ideas I might have to increase court usage. I suggested we go to the school’s physical education classes and do an intro. The teachers were receptive. We used the gym walls and whiffle balls to introduce a one wall game. We spread the students out, in pairs, along the walls, gave a short intro and sent them loose. Then on the days the school visited the arena, where the courts are, we provided more instruction on the courts. After that, students who were interested contacted us, and the school let us leave registration forms in the school office. We also sent info to parents that had played Racquetball, hoping they would like their kids to experience the game…which they did.
2. Eight kids registered that first month. From that, we have since seen 55-60 kids playing in the Jr RB league, or with their parents/grandparents.
3. The key people…the Parks and Rec director had to agree to programming…Windom’s School Resource Officer has been a great help with student contact and assisting with the programming. Of course, parents had to be on board to allow their kids to participate. We also did programming for the “Big Buddies” of Cottonwood and Jackson County. This is group that assists challenged youth with positive activities. Their County liaison would bring the boys to the courts for lessons.
4. Beginning with exposure at the school provided us the opportunity to work with a good number of kids, and the registration form with requests home address and e-mail so communications can be provided in a timely manner…and doesn’t cost a lot since we eliminated most of the postage needs. Contacting parents that had played racquetball was beneficial.
5. We have 2 courts. Once the registration process finishes, we put the participants into a group that meets once a week for an hour. They are grouped by age and skill, as much as possible.
6. We were very fortunate to have a gift given to the program. This allowed for “scholarships” to be provided for kids that could not afford the program, and to bring people like Rhonda Rajsich to town. She visited many school classrooms talking about the importance of making good decisions, keeping yourself healthy, telling her story about being mugged and overcoming challenges, and of course she led after-school racquetball activities for the kids.
As a business person, I also have funded the program, and the families that can afford the registration fee pay $20 for 4 weeks of league/lessons. (We re-register every month the program runs so as school activities change we can work with the kids’ schedules) Of the $20 registration, we keep $5 per participant to offset costs for prizes. The balance of the registration fee goes to the arena for court rental.
7. Yes, we have interest. Last year we had 2 boys compete in the MN State Singles events, and 1 that competed in the MN State Doubles event. Being 2 1/2 to 3 hours from the Twin Cities does make for a challenge.
8. We have an open invitation to parents/ grandparents to come play with the kids at any time. We toss them into the day’s activities with the kids. We have a couple parents, and grandparents that have participated. Additional volunteers have come from the RSVP program of Cottonwood County.
9. Yes, there are a couple parents that play regularly.
10. These parents wanted to learn the game, so this last January they started watching YouTube videos to learn.
11. We set up a Facebook page and attempt to note successes the kids have in school that are in the local paper, or things we hear about.
We have been fortunate that the program has grown by voice. We have not had to re-visit the school, or put ads in the paper for participants. Most of our participants are elementary and middle school students that have not started the 7th grade after-school activities like football, basketball, etc. We will need to address this soon, and we would also like to see older students using racquetball as a cross trainer for their school athletics…just need for them to find time.