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The State of Play in Central Ohio

 Margaret Robinson, The Columbus Foundation The State of Play in Central Ohio
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State of Play Central Ohio shows that financial barriers impact sports participation for Black children more than White children

A new report released by the Sports & Society Program at the Aspen Institute shows a divide based upon race and income in youth sports experiences for some children in central Ohio. 

Summary of the purpose and findings from The Aspen Institute’s State of Play Central Ohio report.

Guided by an advisory group of local partners, State of Play Central Ohio is an examination of how well Columbus-area stakeholders are serving the health needs of youth and communities through sports.

This report provides a comprehensive analysis of the current trends in youth sports, outdoor recreation and physical activity, along with recommendations to mobilize the region to improve and increase opportunities for all young people.

What are some of the report’s major themes?

  • There is inequity between communities by geography, especially as it aligns with race/ethnicity. 

    • The Ohio Capital Conference, which is home to 32 suburban high schools across five counties, offers 24 multilevel varsity sports. Schools offer between 18 and 28 sports. In contrast, Columbus City Schools, with limited middle school and no freshman sports, provides even fewer options for interested students. Some sports, such as lacrosse, thrive in the suburbs but are hard to find in the city.

    • 71% of Black youth surveyed reported they feel safe playing in their neighborhood compared to 86% of White youth.

    • Twenty percent of surveyed central Ohio youth said that the costs of sports prevent them from playing more often. This affects Black youth (28%) more than White youth (18%), and elementary school students (29%) more than those in middle school (19%) and high school (14%).

    • Transportation is a major component of this inequity.

  • Collaboration and innovations are hallmarks of the central Ohio region and should be celebrated and leveraged.

    • Community centers have been hubs of collaboration both before the pandemic and during COVID-19 restrictions, with parks and recreation agencies often leading the way.

    • Efforts by the Columbus Blue Jackets and Columbus Crew have brought their sports to many children across the community.

    • Space adaptation inclusive of vacant lots has helped transform/create more spaces for play.

state of play central ohio

See other key findings in The Columbus Foundation’s press release and the Aspen Institute’s Executive Summary.

What are the report’s recommendations for central Ohio? 

The report’s main recommendation is to direct central Ohio’s collaborative power into a coalition focused on health and inclusion through youth sports. The coalition could inspire systemic changes by focusing organizations throughout the region on five key areas – knowledge sharing and communications, family empowerment, coach development pipeline, equity and inclusion, and quality assurance among funders.

The advisory group will use the findings to guide next steps on further coordinating central Ohio’s youth sports landscape, ensuring greater access and equity for youth related to sports and recreation, and removing barriers to youth success.

“Central Ohio is well positioned to harness our collective expertise, collaborative spirit, and network of youth-serving organizations to ensure a more equitable sports, recreation, and playing experience for all our children. The findings and recommendations from the Aspen team give us a solid playbook to adapt — and improve upon — the strengths of our community, across all sporting disciplines.”

Dan A. Sharpe, Vice President for Community Research and Grants Management at The Columbus Foundation

State of Play Central Ohio was made in partnership with The Columbus Foundation, Lindy Infante Foundation, Columbus Recreation and Parks Department, Columbus Youth Foundation, Nationwide Children’s Hospital, and the Chris and Lori Holtmann Fund. 

The full report is available to read here. Read the executive summary of the report here. Watch a video explaining the report’s purpose and findings here.
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