The Tennessee Eastman Recreation Club has provided youth league sporting activities since the 1950s. Each year, staff members make it their duty to provide kids with a competitive, athletic atmosphere that minimizes the amount of pressure placed on them.
"The main thing is that the kids have fun while understanding teamwork and sportsmanship," said Tom Williams, who is currently in his 20th year at Eastman Recreation. "We tell them to come out to compete, but to have fun while competing."
With the professional sports industry as successful as it is, parents are looking to get their kids involved in any and every sport possible. Oftentimes, that involvement comes with a great amount of pressure on the child. Hopes of landing a scholarship to a Division I college or becoming a professional player may hinder the child’s experience in sports. Eventually, some kids even turn away from it - when sports stop being fun, and become overly competitive.
Eastman Recreation’s aim is to provide the kids with an experience that they can enjoy and will remember for the rest of their lives.
"I don’t know how many times I’ve been at the store, supermarket, wherever, and had a parent whose kid played 10 years ago come up and tell me how much fun they had," Williams said. "For them to remember that and have it be such a positive memory, that really means a lot to us."
What makes Eastman Recreation such a successful organization is its willingness to adjust to the participants’ recommendations. Feedback from the community is what keeps the program running and is the reason why participation has been steady for the last 50 years.
"There’s a survey that goes out at the end of the season where parents can make comments and, even on the website, there is a spot where they can make suggestions," said Jeff Hickam, a 27-year veteran at Eastman Rec whose other job is as principal at Central Heights Elementary School. "They keep a constant eye on what’s going on out there and what people want to see."
Another big reason Eastman Recreation is so successful are the relationships developed between the kids, parents and coaches. Like Hickam, most of those involved with the organization are associated with local schools and get to know the kids before they even come through the school system. The kids look up to their coaches because of the support they provide. Even if a kid isn’t the greatest athlete or the one with the most skill, they’re always given a chance.
Every kid gets to play, an opportunity a lot of travel and school leagues don’t provide. It is an affordable experience where the kids are guaranteed to play and have fun doing so. Fundamentals are taught in a respectful way, which leads to a higher learning response from the players.
"It makes you feel like what you do has an importance," said Dan Roller, who grew up playing in Eastman Rec and is in his 18th year with the program. "It's not necessarily the amount in your bank account, the house you live in, the car you drive or anything like that. In our lifetime, having a positive impact on somebody else’s life, that’s what’s most important to us."
A one-hour time limit allows parents enough time on their lunch break to watch an entire game. While most games are played in the morning or mid-afternoon, Wednesday’s games are played after 4 p.m., a time accessible for those unable to make it earlier in the day.
And there is never a shortage of fun at the Eastman fields.
From the kids’ smiling faces after hitting their first-ever home run to the clapping and cheering of the parents, it all starts with the coaches. Positive encouragement mixed with the basic fundamentals leaves everybody wanting to come back the next day to see how much more fun they can possibly have - making memories that will last a lifetime.