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Overall participation numbers in the Madras Aquatic Center and Recreation District rose by 30 percent during 2016-17 year.

MARTY GOODSON/FOR THE PIONEER - One of the MAC and Rec. District's more popular youth sports programs is its fall and spring flag football league. This upcoming fall, tackle football will be introduced as a program for fifth and sixth graders.
A steady stream of participation over the course of last year has left the Madras Aquatic Center and Recreation District feeling encouraged about its continued growth.

Participation rose nearly 30 percent all combined, increasing from 1,000 to nearly 1,300 people over the course of the year.

"That's the steady growth that we're looking for," MACRD Executive Director Joe McHaney said.

The Madras Swim Team continues to be the model program within the district, as participation doubled and then some. Differentiating by quarter, the team grew from 25-40 kids to 60-80 in the most recent year.

Much of that growth, McHaney said, can be attributed to swim coaches Tim and Sara Nelson, who have brought some much-needed continuity back to the program that has turned into a huge competitive success.

Their other pool sport, water polo, is up in the air for fall season after previous head coach Doug Calvin stepped down from the position last winter. The search is ongoing for a replacement, but as McHaney noted, there isn't exactly an abundance of water polo coaches.

In its three youth sports leagues — flag football, soccer and basketball — the MACRD is encouraged by participation numbers, reaching as high as 100 kids in flag football, but would like to see that number increase to 150 in the long term, McHaney said.

This upcoming fall, the district is introducing a fifth- and sixth-grade tackle football league for the first time, headed by recreation and aquatics director Gregg Markwardt, and limiting its flag football league to kindergarten through fourth grade.

Five teams — two Madras, one Warm Springs, one Culver and one Sisters — will coalesce on a more local level than previous youth football programs have in Jefferson County. Like in all of its youth sport leagues, the MACRD hopes this league will create a more direct link with the local high school programs.

"We're setting (the kids) up for, 'this is the beginning of the program,'" McHaney said. "That's kind of our philosophy. We want to be very tied to local programs."

Another key component in starting this league, McHaney said, is the developing relationship between the MACRD and Madras High football team.

Both sides see the importance of having an established youth program to feed into the high school program. This league is the first step in getting there.

"This community wants to have a successful high school program, and I think people are realizing now that our rec district can play a role in that," McHaney said.

Registration is now open at www.macrecdistrict.com. The cost is $150, which McHaney said is steep, but necessary for the sport. However, scholarship money is available though the MAC for those who need to offset some of the cost.

Although this league marks a big step for the district that was years in the making, the rest of the MACRD's youth leagues will remain the same going forward. Many kids are introduced to sports through these leagues, and whether or not they choose to continue with it beyond the youth level, the MACRD mission is for them to have fun.

"We want boys and girls to experience a ball sport and walk away with a good experience," McHaney said. "Maybe they want to do it again, maybe they don't, and that's fine, but it was a good experience for them."

Participation was steady in the district's adult basketball and indoor soccer leagues. MACRD plans to initiate new adult softball and volleyball leagues based on feedback from the community.

The MACRD saw a regression in its hosted running events this year. McHaney acknowledged that they have been stumped on what direction to go with certain events, but are trying to create more family-oriented events and appeal to a larger demographic.

They will continue putting on events such as the Todd Beamer Memorial, Turkey Trot, Canyon Crawl and Mudslinger.

In the big picture, the MACRD, now in its fourth year, is happy with its current position, but wants to continue its positive momentum and become a staple for everyone in the community.

"We've got a long way to go," McHaney said. "As the community grows, we'll grow."

Contact Will Denner at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Follow him on Twitter @MadrasSports, @WillCDenner

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