Sports have always served as a distraction from the trials of everyday life. However, as the harsh winds of the country's economic climate continue to blow strongly, athletics, specifically local youth sports, have been torn by the financial ripple effects as they strive to stay afloat during these rough seas.
Here in Rockdale County, many youth organizations have been hit hard by the current recession. These groups have always provided a haven for athletes to nurture their talents and boost their confidence through competition.
Yet, with the price of food and the unemployment rate constantly rising, player registration along with sponsorships have dropped, thus forcing these groups to adjust on the fly to maintain their standing in the community.
While these issues are a problem for all groups, non-profit programs such as the Rockdale Youth Soccer Association have really been hit hard from the nation's downward economy.
"Some families are having to chose to cut out extra curricular activities in order to pay the bills so that, in turn, has had an effect on the registration numbers," said Cindy Griswell, Rockdale Youth Soccer Association office manager. "RYSA has had triple the number of families that have applied for financial aid this year compared to all of our years past."
According to RYSA officials, about 75-100 players have pulled out in 2009 from the previous season. In addition to the decline in participants, several sponsors, which made heavy donations in the past, have not renewed their contracts.
In order to offset its losses, RYSA has been forced to develop stronger fund raising strategies to help them remain as one of the premiere soccer programs in metro Atlanta.
On the diamond, the Rockdale Girls Softball Association has lowered their enrollment fees due to the economy. Although the registration prices are cheaper, the number of participants has still declined as parents find it harder to include such activities in their budgets.
"We averaged anywhere from 280-300 girls a season; now we're down to 240," said Bo Willis, president of Rockdale Girls Softball Association.
"Because of the economy, we've lowered our price to $95 a season and we're not doing fund raisers. We decided not to do fund raisers, but we have tournaments which make up for fund raising."
The RGSA has also seen a reduction in the number sponsorships from local businesses, which has served as the bloodline to the organization. According to league officials, RGSA previously averaged between eight and nine sponsors a year, but in 2009, they've only managed to secure three businesses to contribute funds to the association.
"We've lowered our sponsorship rates by several hundreds of dollars," Willis said. "Normally, if you sponsor a team, the team gets jerseys with their [players] names on the back. The company gets its sign on the fence and a link on the Web page. But we're really not getting that anymore because people don't want to spend money and I can understand that."
In terms of baseball, the Rockdale Youth Baseball Association has experienced a decline in registration, but according to RYBA president Ed Snyder, he attributes these numbers to additional activities rather than the economy.
"Our numbers have dropped about 10 percent from last year," he said. "Some of that is recruitment. I don't know if it's the economy or just other outlets for kids. Other sports leagues have grown and maybe that's why."
Snyder also said that sponsorship income is also down by 10 percent. However, his staff has avoided financial trouble by quickly replacing their losses with a new sponsor.
Additionally, as part of the registration cost, a fee goes toward capital improvements, which helped pay for a new scoreboard.
Just like several business, churches and various organizations, youth sports teams in Rockdale County have been hit hard by the perils of the economy. Nevertheless, while registration numbers and sponsorships are down, the talent, desire and level of competition from the athletes continues to rise as they strive for excellence despite the financial hardships that would otherwise derail their dreams.