By NATHAN GREGORY
For the second straight year, Starkville was named a Playful City USA community today for its efforts to provide more recreational avenues for local children.
Approximately 213 communities were recognized by KaBOOM! this year with the distinction. KaBOOM! is a national non-profit organization devoted to saving play for children.
Starkville is one of only five communities recognized as a Playful City USA in Mississippi, with the other four being Amory, Hernando, Horn Lake and Senatobia. Starkville joins the latter three towns as repeat winners of the award.
Playful City USA is a national recognition program established in 2007 by KaBOOM! honoring cities and towns that make play a priority and develop unique programs for getting children active and healthy.
The benefits of being named a Playful City USA community include earning eligibility for grants via Let’s Play, a community partnership led by the Dr. Pepper -Snapple Group to get kids and families nationwide more active and healthy. Recipients will be announced next month.
In addition to its designation, Starkville was one of five communities highlighted by KaBOOM! for its innovative efforts to get local children and families more involved in recreational activity. The Starkville Parks Commission, Starkville School District, civic groups and businesses collaborated to invest in play by creating a joint-use agreement allowing for school play spaces to be open for public use during non-school hours.
Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman said he was pleased to see Starkville receive the distinction for the second year in a row.
“Creating more and better play spaces is something that is very important to us. Research shows that recreation improves a person’s physical and emotional well-being. Quality play spaces make recreation more fun. The more fun recreation is, the more likely it is that our citizens will engage it, leading up to a healthier, happier community,” Wiseman said. “The Playful City USA program is the most distinguished program recognizing quality environments for recreation in the country.
We feel validated in our efforts that they continue to recognize this community.”
Starkville Parks Director Matthew Rye shared Wiseman’s enthusiasm in being recognized.
“We’re really excited about it. We have to continue to improve on what we have, and it shows we’re committed to play in general. Our belief is play is very important to the lifestyle of everybody, especially kids,” Rye said. “The projects we have going on confirms we are committed to that. It allows the school district and city to have some access or opportunity for grant money. Due to our joint-use agreement, whoever receives it benefits because they’re open public spaces.”
Heather Carson, who co-chairs a Play Task Force with Rye, said the collaborative efforts of the city, school district, and parent-teacher associations are why more avenues for play have been made available.
“Why we’re recognized is because we’re able to use the resources in our town to improve what families can get to. We built a great playground across from Grumpy’s and now that whole community will be able to walk to a new playground they didn’t have before,” Carson said. “What’s great about our city is that we’re not just talking about things; we’re actually doing them. There are some really cool projects that are actually breaking ground or have broken ground that it would be great for the citizens to be aware of.”
Co-PTA President for Sudduth Elementary Jennifer Davis said the process of raising funds for additions to the school’s playground to be geared toward children with disabilities is an example of how Starkville’s status as a haven for recreation for children is continuing to grow.
“It’s important that all youth in our city are able to have parks where they are comfortable to go play, get fresh air and have learning as they exercise. We’ve had some amazing city leaders to make this possible and put us on the map,” Davis said. “The recognition helps the momentum in making Starkville’s outdoor spaces more inviting for families and having it opens up more grant possibilities to further improve our city playgrounds.”