The City of Maricopa’s Parks and Recreation Department won big during August’s Arizona Parks and Recreation Association online awards presentation, with two innovative programs receiving top awards:
- Maricopa Swims, which has taught 198 first graders how to swim well enough to be safe in the water, was honored as Outstanding Educational Program, with the award presented to James Schultz, Maricopa recreation coordinator of aquatics, and Joshua Bowman, risk and safety administrator.
- Maricopa Esports, in which up to 400 youth have participated, was named Outstanding Sports Program, with the award presented to Esports Director Matthew Reiter.
Reiter said both programs are emblematic of the department’s commitment to innovation in its services to the public.
Esports’ public profile has risen dramatically over the past few years as leagues have formed to bring video gamers together to compete at live events that attract live audiences and are streamed live to viewers all over the world.
The sport is expanding throughout the collegiate scene, but Maricopa was one of the first cities in the nation to start a recreational program devoted to it, Reiter said.
“Normally kids play video games alone in a dark room, in a negative way. We’re turning that around so they’re doing it in a positive way and a competitive way,” he said, adding it’s a great choice for youth who don’t like playing sports to experience the positive social aspects of doing so.
Maricopa Esports includes incentives for physical activity and nutritious diets, including discounts off player fees for completing workouts and diet suggestions. The City hosts an adult esports league as well.
Maricopa Swims, sponsored by local utility Global Water Resources, is a safety-centered program that was piloted last fall, teaching water survival skills to almost 200 first graders from the Maricopa Unified School District.
Students from Maricopa and Butterfield elementary schools were bused to Copper Sky Aquatic Center four times for weekly water safety lessons. In a pre-program survey, just half the parents of participating students from the two schools said they thought their child would definitely survive if they were to fall into a body of water unsupervised.
By the end of the four weeks, 190 of the students were able to jump into water over their head and swim back to the wall.
Reiter and Schultz said the City’s Youth Enrichment Recreation Coordinator Terri Cross and other parks and rec staff have been instrumental to the programs’ success, but gave ultimate credit to the community and its participation.
Both programs have been forced to put the brakes on since school instruction moved online and occupancy limits elsewhere were lowered last spring, but are ready to start back up when conditions are closer to normal.
Reiter said Maricopa Esports is starting leagues this fall at two schools: A+ Charter School and Sequoia Pathway Academy.
Schultz said the city and school district are hoping to resume Maricopa Swims for the spring semester, “but first we’ve got to get these kids back on campus.”
He said the remaining MUSD elementary schools are eager to join in, and the city wants to bring it to all charter schools in town as well.
“Everyone is just ready to go,” he said.