Recently, while reminiscing about growing up in my hometown of Waycross, Georgia, it occurred to me just how important play is to an individual’s overall development. Our version of green space in Waycross included tackle football in Ms. Annie Laura Williams’ yard, which encompassed less than half an acre, with the out-of-bounds being boarded by the pavement to the left and hedges to the right. I generally had the tendency of running to the right because I would rather take my chances of a hard tackle into the bushes than the guaranteed pain that came with a tackle onto the pavement. The Saturday football games were always the highlights of our week, although the occasional kick the can, red light-green light, and hop-scotch, to name a few, became the undercard games for the main event.
The neighborhood games became the precursor preparation for recreation department activities: In the fall, “Pop Warner” football, winter basketball, and spring baseball played in our local park. The pride of representing our neighborhood created a true sense of community for us. My elementary school sports teams, the McDonald Street Rattlers, would garner support from people of all ages as we battled other area schools on Saturday mornings and afternoons. We had no concept of the collateral value of play — the decrease in crime, increased buying power for local retailers, or economic return from outside visitors to the local economy — we just felt its intrinsic value and captured the enjoyment of competition between friends and other kids with similar interests.
I understand my experience isn’t unique to my hometown community, but mirrors the experiences many of the professionals in our space had, as well as the communities we serve each and every day are having. This is just a reminder for us all to be mindful of the indelible memories we cultivate and the lasting impressions we create for our young people through parks and recreation activities. Whenever I visit “home” and talk about childhood memories with old friends, these activities in my old neighborhood become the hot topic of the discussion. This foundation of “play” was not built on how much our parents made, the cultural background of participants in the game, or even our genders.
Famed Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud regarded play as the means by which a child accomplishes her first great cultural and psychological achievements. John Locke wrote, “Because there can be no recreation without delight, which depends not always on reason, but oftener on fancy, it must be permitted children not only to divert themselves, but to do it after their own fashion.”
As primary gatekeepers of the play canvas, let us continue to encourage creativity and preserve the value of play.
Detrick L. Stanford, CPRP, is the Chair of NRPA's Board of Directors.