Despite the dozens of recreational opportunities and facilities in Columbus, the City Parks and Recreation Department team has long wished to bring the 1993 classic sports movie “The Sandlot” to life.
In the film, a young boy named Benny Rodriquez is depicted running around the neighborhood each summer day and gathering a group of friends to play a little pickup baseball game.
“I’d love for our kids to go to the park and know how to get their friends together to play a pickup baseball game, or soccer and be a little loose with the rules,” Parks and Recreation Manager Betsy Eckhardt said. “Or soccer. We just want to see our kids out using our parks in all sorts of ways.”
To that end, the Parks and Rec team is cranking up the fun throughout the summer in hopes to get kids of all ages outside enjoying the outdoors. It will start from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. this Saturday, May 20th, when the department hosts “Kids to Parks Day” in West Pawnee Park, in the island over the bridge behind Pawnee Plunge.
Kids to Parks Day is a national day of outdoor play celebrated annually on the third Saturday of May that was started by nonprofit the National Park Trust. The day “connects kids and families with their local, state, and national parks and public lands through thousands of park events that promote discovery and exploration in the great outdoors,” according to the organization’s website.
“We will have tons of games and fun activities to kick off the summer,” Eckhardt said. “The purpose of Kids to Parks Day is to really introduce them to summertime and get them outside going to the parks, being in the parks, playing and learning about parks. We want them to know that there is more to our parks than just playground equipment.”
The free event will also feature the Nebraska Game and Parks trailer, which will be ready to entertain all the kids in attendance.
“Nebraska Games and Parks trailer is providing us with a lot of activities,” Parks and Recreation Coordinator Sydney Winger said, noting one of the activities will be a nature art crime scene of bugs. “We want to connect kids to nature.”
To help celebrate, Mayor Jim Bulkley recently signed a proclamation officially declaring May 20th “Kids to Park Day” throughout Columbus.
“I think it’s really exciting. We’ve got great facilities we want the kids to get out and enjoy without a phone in their hands or a laptop or video game,” Bulkley said. “Get out and enjoy Mother Nature, all the outdoor recreation we have to offer.”
The Parks and Recreation team has special activities planned beyond May 20th. The Pawnee Plunge will open on Saturday, May 27th, and then there is the “Itty Bitty Summer Camp” program that takes place each week through early August for kids in kindergarten through third grade. The camp costs $50 per child each week and has different themes. To sign-up your children, click here.
Eckhardt said the Parks department is looking forward to Saturday, but reiterated the ultimate goal is to inspire kids to be able to enjoy the parks with their friends like the ones in “The Sandlot.” The parks and recreation manager said she has fond memories from her childhood of playing games in the park with her friends and that she’s hopeful today’s youth can experience the same.
An added bonus would be a kid yelling, “You’re killin’ me Smalls!” like the character “Ham” famously says in the movie during a pickup game.
“Where kids are actually playing and not on a screen,” Eckhardt said of what she would like to see this summer. “We want kids to feel like they can create games, play and know what to do with park spaces. Adventure awaits."
The mayor added to that.
“We’re proud of our parks,” Bulkley said. “And they’re an important part of our community, so we hope people can get out and enjoy them.”
Check out this video message from the trio about Kids to Parks Day on the City's YouTube channel.
(ABOUT THE PHOTO: City Parks and Recreation Manager Betsy Eckhardt, left, Mayor Jim Bulkley and Parks and Recreation Coordinator Sydney Winger show off the mayor's proclamation for Kids to Parks Day on May 20th. The trio gathered at Pawnee Park on the morning of May 12th in the park so the mayor could sign the proclamation.)