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Released June 27, 2003


HATTIESBURG -- Now in its 19th year, the National Youth Sports Program (NYSP) at The University of Southern Mississippi continues to enrich the lives of economically disadvantaged children, mostly from the Hattiesburg area.

The NYSP at Southern Miss is funded by a $73,700 grant from the NCAA, which also supplies athletic apparel and equipment. The program provides athletic and educational activities for boys and girls ages 10-16. In addition to children from Hattiesburg participating this year, there are also youth from Jefferson Davis County taking part.

This year's program began on June 9 and will run through July 14. During that time, as many as 320 children per day will participate in activities at three different sites. At Southern Miss's Lake Sehoy, children will be taught drug education and will also participate in canoeing, fishing and volleyball. At the university's Sports Arena, youth will participate in math and science activities, play basketball and soccer and take part in a general fitness class.

At Dahmer Park, the educational focus will be on nutritional education, and athletic activities will include swimming, tennis and softball.

At the end of the program, there will be an awards day to recognize exceptional participants in each activity.

NYSP classes and activities are coordinated by 34 volunteer instructors from the university and the local community.

Tommy Christian, a graduate student in the School of Human Performance and Recreation, acts as liaison officer for the program. He said the positive impact on the young participants was easy to see.

"They really develop in the month we have them, in many ways," Christian said. "We see a lot of change in a lot of the children.

"Some of them come in and want to show off in front of their friends. But you can find a leader in a group of kids. And if you can reach that leader, and get them to do what they should do, then the rest of the kids will follow along."

The NYSP at Southern Miss is structured to alleviate as much burden as possible from the parents whose children participate, Christian said. All the children who participate must first pass a physical exam from a physician, provided free of charge by the NYSP. Also, children are picked up and shuttled to and from the activity sites in buses provided by the Hattiesburg Public Schools.

"Parents are very supportive of it," Christian said. "Most of the feedback we get is very positive, that the kids are enjoying themselves, having a good time."

In the weeks leading up to the program's start date, Christian and other NYSP staff use public service announcements to let the community know about the activities. But after 19 years of providing activities and learning opportunities to the Hattiesburg community's youth, word of mouth may be the most effective form of promotion NYSP enjoys. Christian said that it's not unusual to have children come back year after year.

"It's nice seeing kids we had when they were 10-years-old who are now 15, 16," Christian said.

In addition to Christian, other NYSP administrative staff members include Dr. Mark Maneval, activity director; Dr. Terry Kinney, project administrator; and Amos Mansfield, medical coordinator.

Southern Miss is one of 200 institutions in 175 communities participating in the NYSP nationwide. Approximately 75,000 children will participate in NYSP learning and athletic activities this summer.

The NYSP began in 1969, with the mission of combining athletic activities with learning. Its focus is on giving the children of low-income families positive memories and useful skills. To that end, it is required that 90 percent of participants meet national poverty guidelines.


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April 20, 2004 4:09 PM