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City of Des Moines Parks and Recreation Sees Increased Youth Sports Participation

Recreational Scholarship Programs

August 18, 2023

Recreation programs across the country have seen a decrease in participation in the last decade. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 2016 nearly 59% of kids ages 6 to 13 participated in some sort of athletic activity, that number now sits at 50% with only 34% of youth from low-income families participating. Des Moines Parks and Recreation, however, has seen an incredible increase in youth participation in recent years, even surpassing pre covid numbers. Since 2019, our registration numbers in first through seventh grade athletic programming has increased by over 75%.

Des Moines Parks & Recreation Scholarships

The driving force behind our increased numbers is our Youth Recreation Scholarship Program (YRSP) and the Greater Des Moines Recreational Activity Scholarship Program (GRASP). First introduced in 2020 YRSP is offered in partnership with Des Moines Public Schools and allows eligible students who qualify for free and reduced lunch through the state of Iowa to receive $5 registration for youth sports and swim lessons. Variety – the Childrens Charity also contributes to the $5 swim lessons. GRASP was introduced in 2015 and facilitated through IMPACT – Polk County. It gives the same discount for households within Des Moines that meet established guidelines based on income. The goal of these programs was to allow low-income families access to programming to help fight against the rising costs of athletics. Since 2021, 45% of our participants used these scholarships with over 1,000 kids utilizing it every year. These scholarships do more than simply increasing our numbers, they allow kids the opportunity to try sports that they maybe wouldn’t have if they had to pay full price. We have also seen more girls participating “boy-dominated” sports like flag football. While this is only year three of the YRSP program, we fully expect the impact to be felt at the high school level soon. As more kids participate and gain a love for the sport, they will be more likely to continue to play into high school.

Youth Volleyball

Other Des Moines Parks & Rec Athletic Programs

While the scholarship programs are a big reason for our increase, they are not the only factor. Our Every Kid Gets a Ball program, offered in partnership with Friends of Des Moines Parks, gives every kid in our programs a free ball for that sport. If you visit any of our parks there is a good chance you’ll see kids playing soccer or a pickup game of basketball with one of the balls received from this program. Since the start of the program in 2022, we have given out over 3,500 balls. This gives kids the opportunity to play on their own time and further increase their interest in sports. We have also invested in improving our parks and are committed to creating park space within a ten-minute walk from every resident in the city providing even more access to recreational spaces. Moreover, we have incredible volunteer coaches that put in countless hours to help these kids develop and enjoy these sports as much as possible. If you are interested in joining our team of volunteer coaches you can reach out to us at dmsports@dmgov.org.

Our programs are welcoming to all skill levels and interests. With year-round offerings there are plenty of opportunities to get you and your kids involved. You can find more information for all of our programs including adult sports, nature programs, special events, and park rentals on our website at dsm.city/parks.

With the #7 Lowest Cost of Living in the U.S. and a Top Metro for Number of Economic Development Projects (among metros with a population of 200,000 to 1 million), Greater Des Moines (DSM) is a region where you can have it all. Learn more about what it’s like to live here.

Mike Bahl

Mike Bahl is a Recreation Supervisor with the City of Des Moines Parks and Recreation Department.