Community Columns

We need athletic fields on a par with the Gallo Center

My daughter just joined the Modesto Symphony Youth Orchestra, and she and her orchestra peers will play at the Gallo Center for the Arts in November. It will be my child's first performance in a state-of-the-art venue.

The center's availability to local youth performing groups is a huge boost. Playing, acting or singing in such a setting not only gives kids a feel for what professional performances consist of, but encourages them to further pursue their artistic endeavors.

The same concept holds true for children involved in sports. Facilities developed to appropriately accommodate competitive sports promote continued interest and participation. Whether it's a pool, baseball diamond or tennis court, the facility makes a difference.

Take soccer, for example. Navigating a soccer ball across a lumpy, uneven patch of grass is not the same as kicking that same ball on a smooth, pristine field. My son's Modesto's Youth Soccer Association team suffers the former when playing home games at Roosevelt Junior High School. Though Roosevelt is a great junior high, it is not equipped with fields of dreams.

My son and his teammates had the opportunity to dream big, however, when they played on the immaculate fields at the Ceres River Bluff Regional Park and Dublin Sports Grounds. The kids' sparked passion was as palpable as the scent of the freshly mowed grass. Both complexes featured multiple lighted soccer, softball and baseball fields, and reflected communities willing to invest in youth sports.

Though Modesto's own sports park is on the table for development, it is still years away from reality. Mary Grogan Community Park will boast lighted soccer fields, an aquatics facility, a softball field and a community center adjacent to the new James Enochs High School. While Phase I (soccer fields and parking) might be completed by 2009, the park in its entirety is "still three to four years away," according to the person who answered my question at the city's parks and recreation department.

Whatever the timetable, Modesto should consider the benefits of more aggressively funding facilities such as the future Mary Grogan Community Park. Why? Because participation in extracurricular activities -- whether music, drama or sports -- is preventative medicine for youth.

In his study "Family Matters: What Is the Role of 'Extracurricular' Activities?" Steve Duncan of Montana State University wrote: "Recent research confirms that involvement in extracurricular activities is more than just child's play. School extracurricular activities and involvement in community clubs and organizations are important in fostering the strengths of youth; strengths that help young people steer away from undesirable behavior."

In addition, according to an article in the Oct. 18, 2000, Education Week, a long-term study of 1,800 former sixth-graders showed that those who participated in extracurricular activities such as band, school plays, academic clubs and sports had better grades, lower rates of truancy and stronger attachment to their school in high school and beyond.

Keeping kids interested and involved is worth the expense of investing in proper facilities now. Critics that say the money could be better spent should consider this. What could benefit our community more than providing bright tomorrows for our kids?

Reynolds is a Modesto resident. E-mail her at