Last year, Fort Leonard Wood's Youth Sports and Fitness program was recognized for excellence. This year, those who run the program will strive to meet and exceed the variety and quality of activities the post provides to its young athletes and look for new ways to promote participation and sportsmanship, according to the program's director, Jamal Verdell.

"Being recognized … is certainly a nice way to reflect upon the past year, but charges myself and the program with the responsibility to continue to set the bar for excellence in youth sports," said Verdell, who accepted the 2015 National Excellence in Youth Sports Award in November during the Athletic Business Conference in New Orleans.

"One certain thing about sports and youth programming is that needs and desires are constantly changing as time moves on," Verdell said. "As a program, we will continue to focus on the staple of sports that military youth enjoy. We will continue to improve the education and training resources that our coaches receive so that our youth will have a good opportunity to be the best they desire to be. Going forward, we will constantly keep an ear to the ground in regards to new technology and the desires of our youth and look at ways at enhancing our youth sports and fitness program."

The award, presented by the National Alliance for Youth Sports and Athletic Business magazine, recognized Fort Leonard Wood for its diverse sports offerings, its dedication to promoting sportsmanship, and teaching valuable concepts -- such as honor, respect and leadership -- alongside the fundamentals of each sport it offers.

Verdell had a chance to share some of the best practices Fort Leonard Wood employs with those who run other programs during a panel discussion at the November conference.

"One of the questions about our program was about our sportsmanship award and how youth are awarded in our program," Verdell said. "All youth who participate earn a participation medal for their efforts in being an athlete, however, only four athletes per team earn trophies, one of the awards is the sportsmanship award. This award is earned by the athlete who exemplifies great sportsmanship in practice and during games throughout the season and is voted on by the coaches and parents for younger divisions and by the youth themselves in the older divisions. By doing this we are able to reinforce what is truly important when playing sports."

The Fort Leonard Wood program was one of eight to receive the award out of hundreds considered in 2015. The NAYSA recently posted a video at www.youtube.com/watch?v=ja3i-BPydFc showcasing the Fort Leonard Wood Youth Sports Program's accomplishments.

Verdell not only credited his staff, coaches, officials, volunteers and parents, but also the larger Fort Leonard Wood community to supporting the post's young athletes.

"The best success is shared success, and I am incredibly honored to be a part of such and special Army community that is committed to doing youth sports and fitness the right way and winning the fight on obesity," he said. "Out of several hundred programs that applied for the 2015 National Excellence in Youth Sports award, eight winners worldwide were chosen, and of those eight winners Fort Leonard Wood was one of two Army Garrisons that were chosen out of the 65 total youth sports and fitness programs in the Army."

"It is such an honor and a privilege to work with youth," Verdell continued. "I share a message with my staff, coaches, officials volunteers and parents 'Aspire to Inspire.' It's important that we know the responsibility of being a good role model for our youth and inspire them to be the very best that they can be as a student and an athlete. I don't do what I do every day for recognition, and I'm very fortunate to have many different staff members who have helped throughout the year feel the same way. Our program's belief is that we want our youth to have fun and develop, not only on the courts or fields, but in life. This award signifies the importance of that message and the diligence and commitment that my staff and I have to providing one of the best youth sports experiences in the country."