Forging Friendships

By Fred Egnh

Grateful for all of the friendships she forged while playing sports, Leslie Brinson is intent on making sure youngsters who participate in programs at the city of Bloomington’s (Ind.) Parks & Recreation Department are as lucky as she was.


“Most of my memories involve teammates and the strong lasting friendships we created on the court or field,” says Brinson, who has spent the past decade as the department’s Facility/Program Coordinator.

“I want participants in my program to develop life-long friendships with all kinds of people they would not normally interact with through school or other social venues.”

Brinson’s department offers a variety of sports programs with—you guessed it—basketball being the most popular in the basketball-crazed state of Indiana.

Brinson shares her insights on the joys and challenges of making a difference in kids’ lives through sports.

Fred: Why are you so passionate about sports and youth programming?

Leslie: It combines two of my great loves. I have been involved with sports all of my life and wanted sports to continue to play a part in my career. My original path was as an elementary school teacher, but through youth-sports programming, I am able to combine both interests.

Fred: Child predators disguised as caring coaches continue to destroy young lives across the country. What does your program do to make sure only the right types of people are coaching kids?

Leslie: This is certainly a hot topic in youth sports today, as it should have been for years. Our coaches must submit to a criminal background check and attend a league-specific coaches training. The communication between league personnel and our coaches is active and frequent, and takes place prior to, during, and after the season. We also house all of the practices and games within our facility, so coaches are monitored at all times.

Fred: Concussions are on everyone’s radar these days, so what does your program do regarding this?

Leslie: The city’s parks and recreation department has a close working relationship with IU Health-Bloomington. We are able to bring in an athletic trainer to discuss with coaches the symptoms and care for concussions. During larger sporting events, we have a trainer on-site to assist with any injuries.

Fred: What is the best idea your department has come up with since you have been there, and how has it impacted your program?

Leslie: I think the best thing we have done in the last five years is purchase a multi-sport indoor facility. The purchase allowed us to bring our youth basketball program into a single facility, and also bring on another full-time staff member to help run the program. Having two administrators has allowed us to expand ideas and sharpen the focus of the program.

Fred: What is the biggest challenge the department faces?

Leslie: As with many departments and businesses in the country today, we have the challenge of creating quality programming on tight budgets. We rely heavily on our scholarship programs to help those families in need, and we have tried to streamline staffing and programming expenses.

Fred Engh is founder and CEO of the National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS) in West Palm Beach, Fla. He can be reached via e-mail at To join more than 3,000 communities by starting a NAYS chapter, visit or contact Emmy Martinez at or (800) 729-2057.