By Mari-Alice Jasper, Fort Campbell Courier internJune 12, 2015
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. -- Hundreds of brightly colored jerseys gleamed in the sun Saturday morning as children flooded the fields of the South Sports Complex to play America's sport -- baseball -- under the supervision of their coaches who volunteer with the Fort Campbell Child, Youth and School Services sports and fitness branch.
Among these volunteers is Sgt. Mario Rivas, 3rd Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division. Rivas coaches two baseball teams and has been coaching in the Army for six years. Rivas said he also coaches soccer, football and basketball.
"I've been coaching youth sports since I was 15 years old and I've been playing them since I was 4 years old," he said.
Rivas encouraged other parents to get involved with CYSS because he found it to be a way to spend more time with his Family. Right now three of his children are participating in the leagues and his wife attends every game and practice.
"We kind of do this as a Family thing," he said. "It also ties into our Family time. This is what we do. We're into sports, our kids love sports and I enjoy coaching it."
Rivas said he likes volunteering with CYSS because it is a good way for him to be a role model for other children in the community, especially those whose parents are deployed.
"[The players] like to lean on the coach sometimes because it's just like having another Family member helping them out and teaching them the game," he said.
The biggest reward for Rivas though, is the smile on the players' faces.
"It's fun when you see a kid who's never played before and by the end of the season they can do it all," he said. "To me, I know it's a gain as long as I can get them to learn something, and that's always been my focus."
But it's not just male Soldiers volunteering on the baseball diamond. Staff Sgt. Erica Sheppard, 526th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, is the only female active duty volunteer coach. She didn't know she was the only female Soldier, but she was shocked.
Sheppard said she thought this stemmed from a lack of awareness about the need for volunteer coaches, especially females.
"I know there are a lot of female active duty [Soldiers] who are really good at sports who could bring a lot out here," she said.
Sheppard said she initially got involved with the CYSS program through their Facebook page and volunteered when she found out her kids would get discounted registration rates.
Sheppard said she started out coaching soccer because she thought it would be good for her son and daughter. After soccer, CYSS officials asked her to coach T-ball.
"I wasn't going to do it because I was full-time Army, full-time student, full-time mom," she said. "But [the manager] was pretty insistent and I decided it would be good for my son and good for me, so I did it."
She said coaching has been a lot of fun for her and her children even if her teams weren't always playing so well.
"For soccer we weren't the greatest team," she said. "I think out of the whole season we got one goal and even though we lost the game -- that was the best moment for me. It was like we won the World Cup we were so happy."
Sheppard said CYSS games aren't about who wins and loses, it's about the lessons the kids are learning.
"The kids really love it," she said. "And to see the look on their face and know you are influencing how they are doing and how they are playing, and the teamwork they are building at that age -- especially for my kids, which is mainly why I do it."
Roger Williams, Fort Campbell CYSS sports and fitness program manager, said the program is actively recruiting more volunteers. He said they base how many teams they can have each year on the number of volunteer coaches.
Williams said of the 230 volunteers at CYSS during the 2014 fiscal year, 50 percent were active-duty military and 40 percent were spouses of active-duty military. "All of our coaches are volunteers and the vast majority are active-duty service members or their spouses. [Active duty and spouses] are the backbone," he said. "We don't have a program without volunteers."
Adults wanting to volunteer with CYSS are encouraged to come by the Taylor Youth Center, 80 Texas Ave. Volunteers are required to undergo a background check and earn a coaching certificate from The National Youth Sports Coaching Association by completing a class either in-person or online.
Volunteering coaches should expect to dedicate about three and one half hours per week to their team. Hourlong practices are held two nights a week. The games held on Saturday usually last about 90 minutes.
Depending on the number of coaches and how many children are signed up for each level, volunteering coaches can have teams comprised of up to 17 players.
"Our program is volunteer-driven," Williams said. "And as it is, we have children that don't get to play every year because we don't have enough volunteers. The more volunteers we get, the more kids that get to play."