St. John Valley

St. John Valley Recreation Departments are making sports accessible to area youth

VAN BUREN, Maine — Recreation departments across the St. John Valley have seen an increased need to get area youth involved in sports and have plans to make it happen.

Between providing basketball and soccer camps, receiving donations, hosting community skate nights and other feature events such as Police, Fire and Ice, recreation departments in the St. John Valley offer low-cost opportunities to children in northern Aroostook — an area where many families face financial hardship and cannot purchase sports equipment or meet training and experience needs. 

The Frenchville Recreation Department opened its skating rink on Jan. 28 and has asked the public for sports equipment donations such as hockey pucks, skates or sticks. Frenchville isn’t alone in this request, because Van Buren Recreation Department is also seeking similar donations. 

Many families cannot afford to buy their children new pairs of skates, Van Buren Recreation Department Director Dean Gendreau said. The problem goes beyond winter sports and is true for spring, fall and summer sports as well.

“We’re always looking for donations,” Gendreau said. “Like balls, bats and stuff like that. As we’re trying to do a baseball program, kids show up and they don’t have gloves. So the couple of extra gloves that we can lend them is always helpful. Sometimes kids just can’t afford it too  and we don’t want that to stop kids from being able to participate. Even soccer cleats, or shin guards, or socks, it’s always helpful to have stuff like that.” 

The Madawaska Rec Department will host the Valley All-Star Basketball camp in Madawaska on Feb. 21-25. (Courtesy of Madawaska Recreation Department)

Some of the opportunities provided by these recreation departments include sports camps like the 2022 Valley All-Star Basketball Camp, a co-ed day camp for grades three through eight, which will take place at the Madawaska Parks and Recreation Department. 

While many other private sports camps in Maine can cost anywhere between $340 to upward of $5,000, the Valley All-Star Camp only costs $35, making it more accessible to lower income families who want their children to participate and grow in the sports that they love. 

Even though these low-cost camps exist, local law enforcement and government step in to help provide opportunities to children in the area through events such asPolice, Fire, and Ice — which will be held at the Madawaska Rec Department on Feb. 25 and is sponsored by Madawaska emergency services personnel. 

The event will feature a “Jail and Bail” fundraiser where children and adults alike can pay $1 to put a person of their choice in a makeshift jail on the ice for 5 minutes. An extra dollar can get the person out of jail early. 

“Any money raised in the ‘Jail and Bail’ event or through concessions will remain with the rec department,” Officer Dennis Picard of the Madawaska Police Department said. “The purpose is to establish scholarships for local youth so they can attend recreation events or go on field trips.” 

Madawaska Recreational Department and local emergency services personnel will team up to create a new event called Police, Fire and Ice. (Courtesy of Sam Cyr)

Dean Gendreau has been working with rec departments for 25 years and had even been with the Madawaska Recreation Department for roughly 17 of those years before taking over in Van Buren.

During his time of working with rec departments, Dean said he has seen a lull in children’s activity levels as new technology becomes a more prominent feature in their lives. To him, it is important that the rec departments offer sports opportunities and make equipment more accessible, even if it’s just to get kids more active and outside.

“With the way things are nowadays, there are a lot of options for kids to do, they just don’t participate in it as much,” Gendreau said. “With all the games and computer stuff, kids tend to go away from playing athletics or even just running around. Anytime you can offer them something that is different where they can be active and they don’t need to go out and buy stuff they can just come out and do it, it helps.”

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