Hundreds of young athletes from Fort Leonard Wood's Youth Sports program and Waynesville-St. Robert helped kick off a new season of spring sports Saturday as the post held its annual Soccer and Track-and-Field Opening Ceremony at Gerlach Field.

Command Sgt. Major Larry Orvis, U.S. Army Garrison Fort Leonard Wood command sergeant major, alongside St. Robert Mayor George Lauritson, greet athletes Saturday during the ceremony.
Ranging in age from 5 to 15, athletes and coaches from 36 soccer and three track teams paraded onto the track as friends and Family members cheered and an ensemble from the 399th Army Band played, starting with the theme from "Rocky." Athletes also received high fives and encouragement from Col. Tracy Lanier, U.S. Army Garrison Fort Leonard Wood commander; Command Sgt. Maj. Larry Orvis, USAG command sergeant major; Waynesville Mayor Luge Hardman and St. Robert Mayor George Lauritson.

"Youth sports is definitely one of my priorities," Lanier said before the ceremonies began. "Playing sports from the age of 7 taught me teamwork; it taught me respect, and just a way of life. So, youth sports is very important to me. If I had one thing I could say to parents, it would be to continue to put your kids into youth sports. Sports is something they can take with them and benefit from for a lifetime. No matter if they become a high school, college or professional athlete, they can always fall back onto teamwork in their daily lives."

The benefits of participating in sports are many, according to Josh Scott, Waynesville R-VI athletic director and a special guest speaker at Saturday's ceremony.

"When you look out here at these young boys and these young girls, you can guarantee that they have a better chance to end up in college and end up with a college degree just by being a part of sports," Scott said in his remarks. "A recent poll showed that 94 percent of female corporate executives said they not only played a sport, but playing that sport helped them to achieve their success later in life. These young boys and young girls will have, statistically, greater self esteem and greater confidence just by being an athlete, and they will have more academic success in their life because of what they learn from being an athlete."

Teams parade onto Gerlach Field Saturday during the 2017 Youth Sports Soccer and Track Opening Ceremony.
Participating in youth sports, especially soccer, had a great impact on Scott's own life, he said. Growing up in St. Louis, the fundamentals he learned as a young soccer player helped him not only become a successful high-school and college player, but later a successful boys' and girls' soccer coach who helped his teams win back-to-back conference championships.

"I can honestly say I have been very fortunate to be the athletic director for the Waynesville school system for the last nine years, and the reason why I'm here is because of sports," Scott said. "Every major step in my professional career, my collegiate career and my high school career, soccer was right there with me."

Scott urged players to not only excel on the field but also in the classroom.

"You cannot be a great athlete without earning great grades," he said.

Scott also urged parents to encourage their children to play more than one sport, citing recent studies that show a growing number of injuries in players who specialize.

"Right now we are seeing across the country more of an increase in injuries that were very rare, 20 to 30 years ago," he said. "Doctor James Andrews, the most notable surgeon for Major League Baseball has conducted a study that shows Major League pitchers are hurting themselves and sustaining injuries -- not from injuries they've received playing baseball at the Major League level, but from overuse during high school.Studies show that kids who concentrate on one sport alone before the age of 16 will experience more overuse injuries, more emotional burnout and have less time to spend with their Families. So, parents, I encourage you to put your son or daughter into every sport that you can and not just concentrate on one."

Above all, Scott urged coaches to concentrate on the reasons they coach and the reasons kids play sports: to have fun.

"Coaches, I appreciate, I respect and I'm really proud of what you're doing for our kids," Scott said. "I want to remind you that 65 percent of kids who play sports say that their reason is to hang out with friends. A Michigan State study showed that the number one reason why kids play sports was to have fun. So, remember why our kids are out here -- to hang out with their friends and have fun."

Teams will compete over the next few weeks, with most events taking place on Saturdays both on and off Fort Leonard Wood.

Sign-ups underway for T-ball, softball, baseball seasons
Registration is open now through April 21 for the Fort Leonard Wood Youth Sports T-ball, coach-pitch softball and baseball programs.

These recreational leagues are for children ages 4 to 15 years of age. Children must be registered with Child, Youth and School Services to participate. Entry fees are $45 per child.

Each team will play a minimum of six games. Teams will practice twice per week. Games will be held on Saturdays and occasional weekdays. Some games may also be played off post.

Coaches are also needed for the upcoming season.

For more information, call 573.596.0131, ext. 60209.