This year, as Bowie’s Boys and Girls Club celebrates its 50th anniversary, organization leaders say they are losing members. Parents are putting their children in other competitive sports leagues that travel beyond the city’s borders, club leaders said.
“We’re not geared towards going to national competitions in Florida,” said Joe Hoyt, president of the Bowie Boys and Girls Club. “We are getting picked and pulled on from other organizations.”
The nonprofit organization — which provides athletic opportunities for youths between 4 and 18 years old in a wide range of sports — first started in Bowie in 1963. At its height, around the late 1980s, the local club had about 3,000 youths, but membership has declined to about 2,500, club officials said. The bulk of the club’s activities are intramural games that pit teams of Bowie children against one another.
In the face of competition from leagues with more opportunities for travel and exposure, the club can’t do much without turning away from its locally focused mission, Hoyt said.
Despite the decline, the club has managed to keep revenue steady by increasing registration fees from about $95 in 2003 to about $175 today, Hoyt said. That price can vary based on factors such as how many sports a child signs up to play, how many children a family has signed up and whether there is a need for financial assistance, according to the club. Fees bring in 95 percent of the organization’s annual revenue, which tends to be about $240,000, with the rest coming from fundraising, Hoyt said.
The club’s cheerleading commissioner, Joy Holmes, said she can’t see the club going away because children need a place to get basic skills.
“You have to start somewhere; you have to have a foundation,” she said. “The Boys and Girls Club has such a positive history in the community and longevity in the community. We’re here to stay.”
Competitive tournaments and programs shouldn’t be viewed as competitive or in opposition to locally focused clubs, said Sean Kolb, a tournament director for the United States Specialty Sports Association.
“In sports, there’s different levels of talent and of desire. If you can provide different levels [of competitiveness], it’s a service to your community,” said Kolb, who also is softball commissioner for the Olney Boys and Girls Community, a group not affiliated with the Boys and Girls Club. “I don’t look at it as one versus the other. That doesn’t help anyone.”
Megan McDonald, an 11-year-old from Olney, has played on the Olney club’s travel team in tournaments such as those run by USSSA. Playing for a travel team geared toward tournaments has meant she practices about four times a week for 90 minutes at a time.
“When I was on [intramural] house [team], we didn’t have any practices, just games. Now, we have practice all the time,” said Megan, a fifth-grader at Greenwood Elementary School. “I’m getting a lot better.”
Bowie Boys and Girls Club is working to develop young athletes as good role models with new community service projects for the group, Hoyt said. In September, the club adopted a portion of Route 197, near Race Track Road, which athletes will help clean in the spring. Hoyt wants to get more youths involved in supporting the Bowie Interfaith Food Pantry, which provides food assistance to families.
“We are evolving. We are trying to ensure that we keep the old standards in place while making it more interactive for kids today,” Hoyt said.
The competitive leagues weren’t a factor when Fran Stevens, 52, was growing up in Bowie. Stevens began playing with the club when he was 8 years old, shortly after his family moved to Bowie around 1968.
“If [a more a competitive league was] around, it wasn’t that popular,” he said. “Everything stayed in the local level; you wouldn’t go all over the state or down to Virginia.”
The challenge of organizations recruiting athletes has gotten to a point where it makes Stevens reconsider some scrimmages, he said.
“I, in general, won’t scrimmage a team that can recruit my kids,” said Stevens, the commissioner of the Bowie club’s basketball program for 14- to 18-year-old youths. “I don’t want their coaches or their parents talking to my kids, telling them they should come with them.”
In its years of operation, the club has become a family affair for some, such as the Stevens family. Stevens has been coaching for the organization since about 1985 and has coached all four of his children. Stevens’ eldest children also have become club coaches.
“They understand what it’s like giving back and staying in the community,” he said.