A record number of youth are participating in Sandy Springs Youth Sports at Morgan Fall Athletic Fields this fall as organizers and parents adapt to health and safety considerations.

Sandy Springs Youth Sports is a parent-run association that handles all aspects of organized sports for youth at Morgan Falls in cooperation with Sandy Springs Recreation and Parks Department.

“This fall, we [have] over 540 athletes. So we are 10% higher than we have ever been in the history of the park in the fall timetable,” said Colan Wheat, president of the organization.

He said the number of participants is even higher than any spring schedule. In the spring, only softball and baseball are available, but in fall they add cheerleading and football. There may be more sports in the fall, but he said spring has typically recorded more participation. 

But not this year.

Wheat said he thinks it’s because parents are looking for safe activities for their kids. 

“Our parents want our kids active, and they feel there is a safe haven of being … outdoors,” he said. “And we do everything we can to make sure that they are safe and productive while still having, most importantly, fun.” 

Most of the youth are from Sandy Springs, but some come from the west side of Dunwoody, Wheat said.

With the exception of capital projects and drainage issues, Sandy Springs Youth Sports takes care of almost everything at Morgan Falls Athletic Fields, said Recreation and Parks Director Mike Perry.

The organization handles administration, registration, supplies, and equipment including bats and balls – plus they provide a lot of the day-to-day maintenance tasks. They operate the concession stand, line the fields for play, and take care of the grounds, he said. Sandy Springs Youth Sports has been doing this since before the city incorporated, back when Fulton County ran the park.

“When you have an organization like that that’s made up of moms and dads and aunts and uncles, you know they’re going to give you all the time necessary to do a good job,” Perry said.

When the pandemic struck, Sandy Springs Youth Sports canceled seasons. They realized that their four, five and six-year-olds didn’t understand separation or the importance of keeping a mask on.

When parents began to feel safe in letting their kids return to sports outside, Sandy Springs Youth Sports even brought the youngest kids back. But they participated in sports clinics instead of games that would have brought more of them together and made social distancing difficult.

“We started just with small little groups, making the parents feel very comfortable,” Wheat said.

The older groups had no troubles getting back as they already had a love for baseball, softball or football. They knew they wanted it as a part of their life, but the younger kids didn’t, he said. So Sandy Springs Youth Sports took steps to engage them to make it about learning the sport and having fun. They literally had kids spread out across the field throwing baseballs at stuffed animals on fences at Morgan Falls to learn how to throw a baseball.

“We just want to get kids outside and keep playing whatever sport it is and so we ended up last year offering a ton of free clinics, and our football program was free just to get kids out that needed to be out,” said Erin Shepherd, a mother and Sandy Springs Youth Sports board member.

Parent volunteers helped make the organization a success through the pandemic, Wheat added, and sponsors made surviving the pandemic year possible. The organization also kept its expenses low. 

“We had some really smart, previous board members that gave us a very good security blanket for something like what COVID was financially,” Wheat said.

Bob Pepalis

Bob Pepalis covers Sandy Springs for Reporter Newspapers.