Kids who complain about school on Friday are rushing back on Saturday. The difference is, they're carrying basketballs instead of books.

They're participants in Salt Lake County's youth recreation programs - programs that have scored record increases since the county teamed up with local school districts."In 1985, youth basketball and indoor soccer programs began with attendance totaling 3,262," said Mike Peterson, associate director, Salt Lake County Parks & Recreation. "In the following year, these programs grew by 20 percent and 150 percent, respectively."

Since tennis, tee ball, track, girls softball, youth flag football, machine pitch baseball were added to the lineup, participation surpassed previous totals - reaching 19,762 youth players and 14,000 adults.

Kids and their parents, Peterson said, can thank their schools.

Eighty-three schools in Salt Lake County's four districts have made available 181 different facilities for county-sponsored recreational programs.

"Without their cooperation, we definitely would have had to reduce and hold down programs. We would not have been able to meet the demand of our communities," Peterson said. "A lot of kids and adults would not be participating if all four school districts weren't cooperating."

The reason's simple.

Salt Lake County doesn't have the facilities to meet the demand for county-sponsored recreation programs. Neither does the county have resources to build several new facilities.

School districts, burdened by other financial demands, don't have the bucks to start their own out-of-school recreational programs. "So what we have done is work closely together. Rather than the county having to spend millions of dollars to build 30 gymnasiums to fill these demands, we've gone to the school districts. They have cooperated with us tremendously," Peterson said. By doing so, school districts have recreational professionals supervising activities in their schools on weekends.

Glen Lu, Parks & Recreation director, is convinced it's a win-win agreement that "reduces vandalism and juvenile delinquency."

School officials agree.

"It gives me great satisfaction to see taxpayers receive such value from their dollars," said Maurine C. Jensen, a member of the Jordan Board of Education. "Our schools are the people. When I see all these playgrounds filled with kids on Saturday, and their parents watching, I glow with happiness. It's the most mutually satisfying relationship I have ever seen. The people who profit are the public."

The county pays rent to the districts for facilities used.

"But they (the districts) are being fair not to charge us an exorbitant amount that would prohibit us from using the facilities," Peterson said. "If rents went too high, it would be difficult for us to continuing using the schools."

Some of the rent is passed on to participants in user fees. But children who can't afford the $20 to $35 fees aren't excluded. The program is open to everyone, regardless of ability to pay or where they live.

"If you live in North Salt Lake or Sandy, you get the same quality of program," Peterson said.

County rules mandate that every participant is given a chance to play, and every child emerges a winner with a trophy in hand at the end of the program.

Outside the schools, the county also sponsors recreation programs in eight recreation centers, nine swimming pools, three golf courses, Wheeler Farm and the Equestrian Park in South Jordan.

Peterson said these programs benefit "hundreds of thousands of participants."

"It's because of the success of these programs and community support that we are able to bring in large national and international events," he said.

In 1992, Salt Lake County will host the International Softball Congress World Tournament. In July, the Amateur Athletic Union National Boys 12-and-under Basketball Championship will be held here.

"That national championship will be held in West Jordan and Alta High Schools. Without those high schools, we couldn't have had it in Salt Lake County," Peterson said.


(Additional information)

S.L. County recreation growth

Youth basketball 3,669 9,979

Tee ball 105 2,650

Tennis 445 2,004

Youth indoor soccer 1,370 1,714

Machine pitch baseball 0 1,023

Girls softball 180 932

Track 220 762

Youth flag football 0 698

Total: 5,989 19,762