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Program nets park playtime

YMCA offers 90-minute sessions Monday nights

June 20, 2012

Relay races and tug-of-war competitions at picnics, afternoons of playing tag and gathering the neighborhood kids for a game of kick the can as the sun sets.

For many adults, those activities were quintessential summer experiences from their childhood.

Now a YMCA program is acquainting a new generation with those games and many more each Monday night in Hoyt Park.

"We're trying to reintroduce the games we had as kids," said Erin Cross, Y family program manager.

Passport to Play offers 90 minutes of free fun in a Milwaukee County park to bring families together and give kids some physical activity at a time when childhood obesity is a growing health issue.

Wauwatosa mom Jackie Kiracofe is grateful for the opportunity to allow her daughters to dispel some energy before bedtime.

Her daughters Lillian, 5, and Lucy, 2 ½, enjoy playing with the hula hoops, jump ropes and Frisbees the Y staff bring to the site. It's refreshing to see them enjoying the toys and games she grew up with, Kiracofe said.

"I think they're lost on the kids these days with video games, computers, cellphones, all of that," she said.

The Kiracofes got involved in the program last year, the inaugural summer. The high turnout - more than 100 people some nights - led the Y to expand the number of sessions at Hoyt Park this year, Cross said.

The central location - Picnic Area 3 at Menomonee River Parkway and Hoyt Park Drive - has made it a hotspot, she said.

On opening night, June 11, 44 kids turned out. The numbers dipped to about 15 the following week, likely due to the high temps and the construction at Swan Boulevard and Menomonee River Parkway, she said. (People can follow the construction detour signs to get to Hoyt Park Drive.)

Katie Juzenas of Milwaukee brought her 6-year-old daughter, Hannah, for the first time. She was impressed with the enthusiasm and energy of the Y staff.

For an only child, opportunities to socialize with other children are important, she said.

"My daughter's fairly shy," Juzenas said. "I'm surprised she went right out and played. We'll definitely come back."

The program is generally appropriate for kids ages 4 to 14. When there's a large turnout, the crowd is broken into groups by age, allowing the older kids to get more competitive, Cross said.

Because this is a family program, parents are encouraged to participate. It can take some cajoling so after a warm up game or two, the leaders generally organize a partner game so parents have to get involved.

"When you're playing games, in general parents tend to take a seat on the sidelines, but not here," Cross said.

Shannon Dieringer of Milwaukee got into a game of ball tag with daughters Isabelle, 6, and Maeve, 4.

The girls like to re-create the games at home that they learned during the program. Last weekend, they played Drip, Drip, Drop (a take on Duck, Duck, Goose using a cup of water to pour on players' head), a game brought out Monday night to cool off in the heat.

There's really no rush to get home during the summer and spending a beautiful evening in the park is the perfect pastime, Dieringer said.

AT A GLANCE

WHAT: Passport to play, a free family recreation program organized by the YMCA.

WHEN: 6 to 7:30 p.m. Mondays, June 2; July 9, 16, 23 and 30; Aug. 6, 13 and 20

WHERE: Hoyt Park (picnic area 3 in the back of the park off Menomonee River Parkway and Hoyt Park Drive)

INFO: All children must be chaperoned. Participants should wear shoes comfortable for running.

CONTACT: Check out YMCA Passport to Play on Facebook.

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