FORT POLK, La. -- "One hundred years from now it won't matter what kind of car I drove, what kind of house I lived in, how much money I had in the bank, nor what my clothes looked like, but the world may be a little better because I was important in the life of a child."

These words, written by Forest Witcraft, author of "Within My Power,"will forever echo in the hearts of three Fort Polk teens who volunteered with the Child, Youth and School Services Youth Sports program. Not only did each give to the children, parents and community of Fort Polk, they also received a bounty of personal benefits.

Jessica Yako, 16-year-old daughter of Sgt. 1st Class Amy and James Yako, coached the "White Sharks" under 8 soccer team during the 2012 fall season. Hoping to continue her own soccer career, she was told there wouldn't be a team for her age group. When offered the chance to coach instead, she jumped at the opportunity.

Coaching her younger sister, Kailyn's, team seemed like a good fit since Jessica knew the skill level of the 6- to 7-year-olds that comprised the team.

When preparing for the first few practices, Jessica utilized resources on the Internet and accepted the assistance of a soccer dad who offered his expertise. With his help, Jessica ran drills geared toward keeping the youngsters focused and entertained. She kept their attention by employing game-like activities during stretches and drills.

Jessica's father said the kids were not focused at the beginning of the season. With Jessica's guidance, even the most distracted of the group made huge strides and improvements with their soccer skills.

Jessica said coaching presented a few challenges and there were a couple of times she felt a bit overwhelmed. Overall, she said she was really impressed with changes in the dynamics of the team as the season progressed. "The team members transitioned from individuals to a team working together," she said.

Learning how to teach others, relating to children, working at their level and patience are areas where Jessica said she benefitted the most. She said, "I have gained a lot of patience and I think I've become more responsible with children."

With the "White Sharks" parents' support and help and Jessica's leadership, the team enjoyed a successful season.

"The parents were very supportive from the beginning and all the way through to the end. They were really involved, dedicated and supportive," said Jessica's mother, Amy.

During CYSS' flag football season, Madisyn Quebedeaux, daughter of Sgt. Corey and Jody Quebedeaux, led the "Red Warriors," a cheer squad comprised of 6 to 7-year-old girls. Quebedeaux cheered during junior high, but retired her pompoms because she felt cheering was becoming too competitive. Yet her love of the sport, mixed with a desire to serve as a role model to the younger set, compelled her to try coaching as a means to pass on her knowledge and passion.

Early in the season, Quebedeaux spent a good deal of time preparing to coach the young girls. She researched, produced cheer and movement handouts and spent time teaching the girls the finer points of cheerleading. To build coordination, teamwork and rhythm, Quebedeaux ran drills including a sack race.

Quebedeaux said she gained patience and a higher realization that capabilities are not limited by size or age. She said she was amazed how quickly the young girls caught on. In three week's time, she taught them six cheers and realized they were ready for more, so she added another four to their repertoire.

"I have higher expectations now than I did at the beginning of the season. I didn't want to overwhelm the girls, but over time I realized they could do much more than I first thought," Quebedeaux said. "I kept the girls' schoolwork and other commitments in mind as we went through the season. My main goals were to keep the cheer experience fun and give the girls an opportunity to get out of the house and meet new friends."

As the season neared its end, the "Red Warriors'" enthusiasm remained high, which Quebedeaux said was evident in their eagerness to keep practicing. "They love it," the 16-year-old said.

Valerie Collins, mother of Athena Espinoza, was impressed with her daughter's improvement over the season. "Athena has come a long way since the beginning of the year. Madisyn interacts with the girls really well," Collins said.

Quebedeaux plans to continue coaching cheerleading during the upcoming CYSS winter basketball season that runs Jan. 12 to March 9. Some of her squad will continue with her.

Gleaning practical skills isn't the only boon of volunteering; she also learned to be more patient with children and hopes the experience will help her gain a college scholarship.

Sophomore Sgt. Corey and Jody Quebedeaux, daughter of Chap. (Capt.) Jason and Kathleen Heneise, also took on a cheerleading team during the flag football season. She chose to coach an 8- to 10-year-old squad because there were no teams available for her age group.

Heneise was a flyer (the team member at the top of the stunt) at her previous school in California. Heneise said she encouraged team building and ensured none of the girls felt left out.

"I wanted to make sure the girls understood the flyer is not the head of the team and I worked hard to instill teamwork and fun," she said.

To help the girls feel more comfortable, she performed the cheers with them. She also applied many of the current techniques used in the sport.

"Madison taught us all the cheers, so we know them really well. If we mess up, she has us try again," said Kelli Elliot, daughter of Capt. Mark and Christine Elliot.

From the experience of working with an 8- to 10-year-old squad, Heneise said she has improved her leadership, organizing and coordination skills. She appreciates staying busy and active with cheer activities. She also said she gained self-confidence and a deeper respect for the coaching profession.

"Coaching is a lot harder than I thought it would be. I look up to my previous coach more now than I did before this experience," said Heneise.

"I think having teenage coaches is a great idea. The girls are excited to be learning from a current cheerleader and Madison has done a great job working with my daughter," said Ashley Coudle.

CYSS youth sports and fitness director John Stromberg said little kids love having a teenager for a coach. "They feel someone closer to their age can relate to them on a different level," he said. "They really seem to listen and respond better to teenagers."

All CYSS volunteers undergo extensive training, which includes: Background check, CPR and first aid certification and coaching and child abuse classes.

Volunteers are also certified through the National Association for Youth Sports. Hours are tracked through the Volunteer Management Information System on www.myarmyonesource.

com and can be applied to high school or college applications.

To ensure none of the teen volunteers were overwhelmed with responsibility, each had a parent assist as liaison.

"For parents looking for opportunities for their older kids to earn volunteering hours, exercise or leadership experience, coaching is an excellent way to give back to the community," said Stromberg.

CYSS is currently looking for volunteer coaches for soccer and baseball. For more information call 531-6004.

Page last updated Tue January 8th, 2013 at 09:59