Fledgling foundation aims to make youth sports more accessible

Jul 23, 2020

Youth sports leagues provide area kids with much-needed exercise and social interaction. But for some, the cost of equipment and fees prevents young athletes from joining the fun.

This spring, one young resident decided to do something about it. 

Nine-year-old Cole Devlin asked his mother Deb in early March how much it costs to sign up for basketball, before asking if he could earn enough to pay the fees by doing chores around the house.

“My heart melted thinking he wanted to pay his rec fee,” Deb said. But instead, he told her about a friend of his from school who wanted to play basketball but couldn’t afford it.

Deb said that she loved the idea of helping others access recreational sports. For Cole, she said, programs like youth basketball and baseball have brought him new friends in teammates and coaches. 

“He’s happiest when on the court, on the field,” she noted. “It even beats video games!” 

After doing some research, the Devlins found that lower income families are much less likely to sign their kids up for sports due to fees and equipment costs — and for many programs, participation is declining. 

According to Deb, many recreational programs have lost participants to travel teams, which are more expensive — but by eliminating financial obstacles to the programs, she said, other kids might be able to join.

In the course of their research, they found that waiving program fees could increase participation by up to 80 percent, she noted.

So Cole and his family started the Make A Play Foundation, a registered non-profit organization aiming to pay for fees and distribute donated equipment to children who can’t afford to play.

The idea, said Deb, is that the foundation has a for youth, by youth, kids helping kids kind of mission — and the community has stepped up to give others the chance to make a play.

But the timing with the Covid-19 pandemic made everything move a little slowly at first. 

“With the pandemic happening it was tough for the foundation to get the word out,” Deb said. “Covid has changed many things. We’d like to get people together and do an equipment drive...But we’re just kind of having people drop it off, and we’re not doing any fundraisers right now.” 

Now that the state is opening back up and many summer sports programs are starting up again, they’ve been getting more and more support.

Now 10, Cole is getting his friends involved too. Thus far, according to Deb, the foundation has helped six or seven kids with donated equipment, and they’ve recruited one of Cole’s coaches, Aaron Messier, to sit on the board.

“It’s really been so incredible, the response to it in the community,” she said. “It’s been really awesome. More than we ever expected.”

So many people have donated equipment, she added, that they are currently looking for kids to take it — and all recipients will remain anonymous.

“Now we just want to find those families that might need assistance,” she said. “We know they’re out there.”

But it’s not just funding and equipment donations, Deb added — the community is showing support in other ways as well. 

She said a former Division 1 school baseball coach reached out to them with an idea to put together a baseball clinic to raise funds for the fledgling foundation.

“This is absolutely amazing,” she said. “This is just so incredible that someone just offered to do that.”

And although at 10, Cole is still too young to be on the foundation’s board, Deb noted, she hopes that eventually he and his friends will take the helm.

“That’s really the goal,” she said, adding, “I really think this is going to go really good places!”

To learn more, visit facebook.com/Make-A-Play-Foundation-102090048200517.