MANATEE — With the YMCA’s move out of John H. Marble Park, youngsters have found an alternative just a mile away with the Salvation Army.
The Salvation Army launched a youth recreation program this summer at its gymnasium, part of its Center for Worship and Service campus at 5328 24th St. E. in the heart of Oneco. The campus is on the south side of State Road 70, or 1.2 miles west of John H. Marble Park.
Major Tom Vick, program director for the Salvation’s Army youth recreation program, is a 40-year veteran of similar programs.
“It’s starting a little slow by my standards, but it’s off the ground. We have five basketball teams. Some are from the Salvation Army Church, and the others have come in from the YMCA program,” Vick said Wednesday.
The Salvation Army has a long history of working with youth recreation, Vick said.
He managed the youth recreation program in Pensacola when future NFL running back Emmitt Smith was 8. Smith’s first coaches were from the Salvation Army.
“He was above and beyond most 8-year-olds. You could tell just by watching him,” Vick said.
The Salvation Army isn’t necessarily looking for the next Emmitt Smith, but it’s reaching out to youth as a great family activity and to build character, he said.
When the Salvation Army began planning its youth recreation program, officials had not heard any rumblings about the YMCA pulling out of John H. Marble Park, located at the corner of S.R. 70 East and 37th Street East, said Christine Smith, director of community relations and development.
But earlier this month, the YMCA left, saying the facility was too small and needed $1 million in repairs, the Herald previously reported.
Many of those programs are now handled at Harllee Middle School, with an eventual goal of establishing a facility in the Pride Park area, YMCA President Sean Allison said Wednesday.
As with many of its branches, however, the South Manatee County Y could have programs at several locations.
And Allison hopes to return to John H. Marble Park next year to operate the pool and swim program.
He welcomed the Salvation Army’s youth recreation program.
“I hope the Salvation Army program goes well, and is successful. That area needs lots of services,” Allison said. “The Salvation Army has a great program.”
The Salvation Army basketball teams practice Monday and Thursday evenings and play their games on Saturday mornings.
About 30 boys and girls, ages 5-17, are now registered, and the Salvation Army is accepting new registrations. The season will end in early November, and resume in January.
Expansion plans include adding a football league, a summer day-camp program, and a before- and after-school program, Smith said. The Salvation Army is also asking community members to suggest other programs they would like to see. All of the programs would be located at the Salvation Army’s Oneco campus.
The Salvation Army is among local organizations taking part in the 16th Annual Manatee Children’s Summit 9 a.m. - 2 p.m. Saturday at Manatee Civic Center, 1 Haben Blvd., Palmetto. Families can register their child for the Salvation Army program at the summit.
There is a $45 registration fee per child, which covers the entire season. For more information, call Major Tom Vick at 755-3248, ext. 4.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can call 745-7021.