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Opinion Column: Y-M-C-A

Posted: Wednesday, Jan 16th, 2013

It is probably the most memorable song of the 1970s. Y-M-C-A. Right now, the tune has started a musical loop through your head and will do so endlessly all day long. Y-M-C-A. Go ahead, get up from behind your desk, bounce up and down to the beat of Y-M-C-A and throw your arms over your head in an effort to spell out Y-M-C-A.

Trust me, as easy as it looks, it takes some practice to get the arm gestures flowing in rhythm with the tune so that it looks smooth and artistic, rather than like youíre having a heart attack or fending off mosquitoes. It has even become the unofficial anthem at ďLadies Night Out.Ē

Y-M-C-A is one of the few trans-generational, pop cultural phenomenons that we share with our kids and grandkids; right now, as you are reading this, in a daycare somewhere, kids are exercising to, and shouting, Y-M-C-A.

That is what makes the YMCA unique, it is trans-generational. I am referring, now, to the physical presence of the Young Menís Christian Association.

I learned to swim at a YMCA when I was 4 years old (my mother didnít swim and swore that her kids would learn how, since she did not possess the necessary skill to save us from drowning, should the need ever arise.)

My first shoulder surgery was the result of a torn rotator cuff while playing in a YMCA-sponsored softball league. I was 26.

My second shoulder surgery was the result of playing in volleyball tournaments, mostly sponsored by YMCAs in the region. I was 31.

I had knee surgery, in part due to the countless noon basketball games at the Y in which I participated in order to stay in shape. My daughter also took swimming lessons at the Y when she was 4; often, at the same time, I was playing noon basketball.

So, as you can tell, I am pro-YMCA, both the organization and the song. Iíve been fortunate enough to live in three of the four cities in Wyoming that have a YMCA: Buffalo, Sheridan and Cheyenne with Casper being the one not on the list.

But, I have also lived in Wyoming communities that did not have a YMCA: Worland, Cody and Laramie. Even in those communities, I never lacked for a basketball, volleyball or softball league in which to participate, or the opportunity to lift weights, ride a stationary bike or jog on a treadmill (if the desire ever struck, which was, fortunately, not often). What these communities did to make up for the lack of a YMCA was to develop a strong, community-sponsored recreational department.

On reflection, it would be safe to say that I am a staunch supporter of community-recreational efforts, more so than I am a supporter of the YMCA.

There are other examples of communities, which at one time or another, had strong, community recreational programs, besides those three I mentioned earlier, like Rock Springs, Gillette, Rawlins and Jackson. Wright, Wyo. even had an up-and-coming recreational program at one time. They may still, I just havenít had occasion to interact with them recently.

The current debate going on in Goshen County of whether or not to spend an additional 1 percent of our sales tax money to build a YMCA in the community misses the point, in my opinion. The discussion should be focused more on what the community wants in recreational programming and then whether or not a YMCA is needed to fulfill those wants. Granted, I am a newcomer to the area, but not to recreation in Wyoming.

The success of any recreational program, department or physical building will hinge solely on the ability of the person or persons chosen to oversee those activities. Buildings are nice, but the right leadership is what will make it successful.

In asking people around town about their feeling and thoughts about building a YMCA, there appears to be some misconceptions about the mission of a Y, specifically, and recreational programming in general.

One of the overriding opinions shared with me more than once was ďpeople with young children will vote for a Y.Ē It seems as though many folks believe that a Y, and therefore, by extension, community recreation, is for the youngest in our communities.

The first part of that statement Iím not convinced is true. Folks with young children already spend a lot of time hauling their kids from one event to another, Little League, church activities, school activities and sports, concerts, benefits, fair and rodeos. I am not so sure they are all that excited to put activities at the Y on their list.

The second part of that statement, I know from experience, is not true. Good, well-run recreational programming reaches out to all generations through water aerobics for fitness and rehabilitation, basketball and volleyball leagues for men and women, fitness and weight loss classes and arts and crafts activities, just to name a few. Often, exceptional programs use local talents to help teach and mentor people in those activities.

As to whether or not a YMCA is needed to meet the recreational needs of the community is a question for people smarter than me to answer. But I know that there are other alternatives that could be considered. Maybe they have been considered. As a newbie to the area, I will concede ignorance.

However, if 1 percent sales tax money is to be used, couldnít a recreational program be attached to the college to expand its facilities and, by contract, make them available to the community? A similar type of arrangement is what allowed The Learning Center to expand into a new building several years ago.

Willie Gym is in need of serious upgrades. Could that money be used to help update and expand the facilities at Torrington High School, again with assurances that any new facility will be available for community use, and kill two birds with one stone?

Maybe these questions have already been answered and a YMCA is the only foreseeable way that community recreational needs can be met. Again, Iíll plead newbie ignorance.

But here is what I do know: in order for Goshen County to grow and encourage new businesses into the area and increase the tax base, the lack of recreational opportunities for all needs to be addressed.

If low taxes were the only reason for businesses to move into an area, California would be nothing but a nice place to vacation. But companies need more than low taxes to be drawn to an area; conscientious companies place a lot of weight on quality of life when contemplating new areas for business growth. If you arenít convinced, take a look at the growth of most of those communities mentioned earlier.

Ultimately, whether Goshen County gets a YMCA or some other arrangement to provide recreational opportunity to the all the people in the county, success will depend not on a building, but on the vision and leadership of those involved in the initial planning, and those responsible for the implementation of the programming.

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