Have you been searching for a low-key sports program for your family? How does a non-competitive, no commitment, no cost, all ages, all abilities Saturday session sound? A sports program where kids of all ages and all abilities can get together and learn some new skills and just have fun playing. No rigorous practice schedules, no nerve-wracking playoffs, no bench sitters. Sounds amazing, right? Probably too good to be true?
Such a program does exist right here in Western Mass every week -- the Ultimate Sports Program which is held in and around Westfield each Saturday. In the morning, from 10 to noon, there are sessions for basketball, baseball, soccer, or football (the offerings change every few weeks) at Parenzo Gym at Westfield State University. Participants are also welcome to join flag football at 3 p.m. on the field behind Westfield Boys & Girls Club at 28 West Silver Street. USP has also offered programs in dance, frisbee golf, kickball, wiffleball, swimming, rock climbing and Tae Kwon Do. There are sometimes midweek programs, like candlepin bowling. A few of the programs, like bowling, require registration and a small fee and some may be limited to a certain number of participants due to space or equipment limitations. USP also offers several field trips and other unique experiences throughout the year. But most events are simply show up and play.
The best way to keep track of which programs are offered is to sign up for the USP newsletter. It will come to your email inbox every Friday and keep you in the know of all USP has to offer for the upcoming weekend and beyond.
All weekly events are always FREE and are non-committal, families show up when they can and the size of group varies from 10 to 100 depending on the week. The day we attended, there were about 20 attendees from elementary aged kids up to high school seniors -- all with different skill levels. The coolest thing about participating at USP -- everyone learns the exact same skills. There is no age or skill-based division. Everyone works together on the same drills. When they needed to break down the group for throwing practice, they divided participants by the colors the kids were wearing or by height -- just arbitrary designations. So nobody felt "last picked."
In fact, USP was started by Steve Berube and his son Sean nine years ago when Sean was in first grade and was discouraged that a friend of his who has Down syndrome couldn't play on his baseball team. Steve and Sean envisioned a program where kids of all ages and abilities could play sports together and just have fun. Back then they started with 11 local families gathering to play baseball, and now that Sean is a senior in high school, their group has grown to include a mailing list of over 900 families from all over Western Mass. Steve, a local business owner, has coached youth sports for years so it was a natural progression to begin a socially-inclusive sports program. Sean now coaches the participants as well, and parents are welcome to step up and help out too. USP is completely volunteer run.
The motto of USP is "social inclusion through sports: any kid, from any where, of any age, any size, of any sex, and of any ability" is welcome to play. Berube believes it doesn't matter what your skill level is -- everyone can benefit from learning the same way.
USP is mostly supported by grants and donations (WSU donates the use of their gym every weekend) but participants are also welcome to join in fundraising efforts such as bingo events, restaurant fundraisers, spaghetti suppers, or golf tourneys. Donations are also welcome, but not mandatory.
All you have to do to participate is sign a standard insurance waiver. AND, adults must stay with their children. Can you sit in the corner with your Kindle? Yes. Although adults are welcome to participate there is no pressure to do so. However, you do have to be on site. This is not a drop and go program.
We've tried lots of different parks and recreation programs with Eden but have found the schedules are sometimes too intense when you factor in homework and family time. The fees can add up quickly as well. I LOVE that we can all play at USP together, and that we do not have to commit to any number of classes. We can just show up when convenient, learn a new skill, and have fun playing together. And I LOVE that she had so much fun at her first program. There was no nervousness on her part or feelings that she wasn't "good enough."
You can visit the USP website here. We'll for sure be attending more of their programs in the future. Hope to see you there!