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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato

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University Program Nurtures Young Athletes

Young Athletes Program helps develop motor skills.

2016-02-17
Trey Mewes, Mankato Free Press, 2-17-2016

A dance studio inside Minnesota State University, Mankato buzzed with action.

Children and adults alike practiced ball drills, soccer drills, yoga poses and a whole lot of laps around the room for a few younger participants.

That’s common for the Young Athletes program at Minnesota State Mankato, which is partnering with Leisure Education for Exceptional People this year to help more special needs children get in shape and develop their motor skills.

“We’re really focused here at LEEP to expand our youth programs,” said Kristy Rotchadl, athletics coordinator for LEEP. “We really want to reach out to as many athletes as we can.”

While Minnesota State Mankato has put together similar programs in the past, this is the first time LEEP has partnered with Minnesota State Mankato students and faculty on the Young Athletes program, which is designed to help children ages 2-7 with physical or intellectual disabilities improve foundational skills such as balance, jumping, kicking, gripping and more.

“It just helps develop those skills so that when they turn 8, or when they want to compete in the Special Olympics, they can do that,” Rotchadl said.

The eight-week program began last month for more than a dozen children, who come to Minnesota State Mankato each Wednesday to work out with students majoring in education.

Special education teachers are in high demand in Minnesota and nationwide, so working with special needs children is a good opportunity for many would-be educators.

Minnesota State Mankato senior Sydney Remus is helping with the Young Athletes program as part of a class, but she said she jumped at the chance to work with children as part of her health and physical education major.

“It’s a great experience,” she said. “I’m glad I took advantage of the chance to do this.” That kind of experience helps Minnesota State Mankato students in the marketplace, according to professor Susan Tarr, who also coordinates Minnesota State Mankato’s Developmental Adapted Physical Education program.

What’s more, it’s a positive way for students to contribute to the community — programs like Young Athletes are in demand among parents with special needs children.

“They need programs like this,” Tarr said.

“Parents are looking for programs and camps all the time.”

Billie Bassett, whose 5-year-old son, Aden, is part of Young Athletes, was glad she could get Aden into an athletic program that wouldn’t be as structured as other child activities. Aden has Down syndrome and had participated in a few basketball programs before, but he’s finding a lot more success in Young Athletes programs.

“He’s more of an open gym kind of kid,” Bassett said with a laugh. “It’s really good here. They welcome that and want that.”

Young Athletes also welcomes siblings and friends of special needs students, which parents say is great for their children to interact with others.

The entire version of this story can be read in a print copy of the Mankato Free Press. Call the Mankato Free Press at 625-4451 or (800) 657-4662 to find out how to purchase a print copy. The Free Press also prints select stories online at www.mankatofreepress.com.

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