YMCA, D65 team up to cheer on school sports

Nomaan Merchant

For some of the students of Nichols Middle School, 800 Greenleaf St., the school day on a recent Thursday didn’t end when the final bell sounded.

A few days a week, they spend their afternoons playing sports, usually at their middle school, even though Evanston/Skokie School District 65 cut its middle school afterschool sports program two years ago.

Now the programs are run by the McGaw YMCA, but they are still held at the middle schools. That Thursday, the students played soccer at the YMCA because their parents were occupying the building for parent-teacher conferences.

The district and booster clubs at each individual middle school pay McGaw almost $50,000 yearly for the program, and the YMCA contributes its own staff and facilities. Between 300 and 500 students participate in the afterschool sports.

“Part of the reason we agreed to do this with the district was to bring kids into the Y,” said Katie Trippi, McGaw’s director of youth and family services. “They get to see our courts, our pool and the other stuff here.”

At the middle school level, McGaw holds two separate leagues. The Game League is free for all district students and meets three times a week for one hour. Students do not need to register and can attend as many practices as they like, participating in sports such as basketball, cross country, soccer and tennis. Two middle schools also offer climbing walls.

McGaw also offers a more structured Intramural League. In three seasons during the school year, McGaw offers volleyball, soccer and basketball to almost 300 students. Students are organized into teams based on their school that play each other every Saturday over an eight-week season.

“I like meeting the kids, and I especially like the middle school group,” Youth Fitness Director Kim Jass said. “Every season, I get to meet 80 new kids.”

Every participant plays half of each game in the league, and unlike the Game League, students must register weeks in advance of the start of the season. It’s also not free, but the cost varies depending on the student’s financial status.

“The thought is, every kid can pay something,” Jass said.

The Intramural League is mostly run by volunteers who coach the students and referee games. Students can try their hand at sports without fear of failure, said coach and Loyola University junior Daria Hubach.

“It’s not really supercompetitive,” Hubach said. “It’s not people yelling and screaming at the kids.”

Another volunteer coach, Loyola junior Erica Eckhardt, said she enjoys coaching a new group of students every season.

“We go to the kids’ schools and we get to meet the kids,” Eckhardt said. “You get to see the kids improving, and you get to know their names as well.”

The small victories students achieve while playing make the program worthwhile, the coaches said. Hubach said she remembers the way one volleyball team she coached constantly struggled during games, but during a rally in one match the team was able to return the ball multiple times.

Parents began cheering loudly on the sidelines and the coaches felt a sense of accomplishment, Hubach said.

“It was exciting to see them actually doing it and not getting frustrated and angry,” Hubach said. “It’s just really exciting to see the kids succeed.”

Reach Nomaan Merchant at [email protected]