Scott Johnson, Executive Director of Southampton Youth Services (SYS) on the facility’s beginnings, how it’s grown, where it’s headed and the 5th annual Family Fun Day taking place there this Saturday.
This is the fifth annual Family Fun Day at SYS. Tell me a little about some of the activities you have planned for this year and how the event has changed over the years.
It’s continued to grow. Last year we had about 1,000 people come through. This year we’ve added GameStreet a mobile trailer with video games for kids. It has five different screens, so kids can sit down and play games together. It’s really great for some of the older kids who may have aged out of some of the younger activities.
What is the goal of Family Fun Day?
We really want the community to come out and this is a chance for us to give something back. We want people to see the building and the facilities, whether they have supported us in the past, or are people who are new to the area. We get to show off.
It’s not a big money maker, it’s just $10 for adults, $5 for teens and younger kids get in free – but every dollar raised goes to our scholarship program which helps kids who don’t have the means to take part in a program or join SYS. We deal with those kids after school and in other programs — whether it’s Future Stars, gymnastics or karate. Part of the deal for those groups who offer their programs here is to also give back with scholarships.
SYS opened its doors in 2003 and many of us can remember a time before there was an SYS. What in the world did kids do out here before that?
That’s why I got involved in the organization. There were 17 or so of us on the original board. All of us were local parents and coaches. My son was 5 years old and I just wanted to shoot baskets with him. I was thrown out of every gym in the area. It was a liability, of course. There was no free place for kids to just go and play.
So we made a pitch to the town board, we threw a baseball to them and I think they thought we were crazy. They said, ‘Go for it, and good luck.’ At the same time there were some persistent folks on the board who were determined to make this happen, hell or high water.
A big hurdle was cleared when Southampton Town agreed to allow SYS to put the facility on land adjacent to the Major’s Path transfer station, but what were some of the other stumbling blocks along the way?
Being a grass roots organization, we were raising $25 or $50 when we needed a few million to make it work. Fundraising began around 9/11. As a board, we were not sure we should even move forward after that. But we figured let’s go for it and started raising funds, getting pledges and finding great sponsors.
All it takes is a quick trip upisland to see any number of facilities and programs geared toward making kids top athletes. Was that important to you as a board?
We weren’t looking just for the competitive athlete, we wanted it to be for all, whether you were a terrific athlete or not, an actor or a gymnast. We wanted a well rounded recreation center. There really is nothing else out here — we’re really the hub for activity in Southampton. We just started a rattle and stroll program moms to get in shape, so we have members from infancy to one who’s 102 years old.
How does the facility we see today differ from the initial vision of 10 years ago?
At first, we wanted to build a basketball court and that was it. Then we got together with the board and it became 30,00 square feet, then 45,000 then 55,000 square feet. And we hadn’t even broken ground. I thought wait, we haven’t done any of this. But we spoke to people out in the community about the activities they wanted. We went to the senior center. We never had an elevated track in the drawings, but they needed a place to walk in winter. In other places they walk at the mall. It’s been a great addition. Since then we’ve added 6,000 square feet of squash courts, 4,000 square feet of gymnastics space. We now have 65,000 square feet and we probably have 3,000 members. Last spring we added eight tennis courts, four of which are covered.
What difference have you seen SYS make in the lives of kids and what are some of the programs you’re most proud of?
I run a basketball league for kids in third to eighth grade. We have 450 kids from William Floyd to Montauk and it’s something I’m proud of. I’m also a certified official for school games. I see kids at third grade and then I see them at the varsity level — I see them blossom through their middle school and high school career.
Looking ahead, what does SYS have planned for the coming years by way of activities or facilities?
It’s not necessarily top secret – we’re just tying to move forward. We have a number of ideas in the infancy stage. One is an outdoor covered ice rink to be used from November to March for a competitive hockey league or kids learning to skate.
SNAG Golf for kids 5 to 7 has been very well received. It’s sold out right through March. It stands for Starting New At Golf and it’s run by the pro from South Fork Country Club, Tim Garvin. It’s a great way to learn, the kids use big clubs and aim for targets. There’s a thought to bring a golf range here year round and we think we can make a go of it.
Squash has also turned out to be very popular, right?
This is really the first public facility in America, all the others are private clubs driven by the wealthy. We have after school programs for local kids and Saturday clinics for adults. I didn’t know what squash was when we were first approached. After 10 minutes in there I was dead – next day trying to sit down, forget it. It’s a great game and a great cardio workout.
So speaking of workout, can we expect to see you in the bouncy castle this weekend at the Family Fun Fair?
If you had a dunk booth you might see me in there. We’ll be out there selling food and having a great time. We’re just hoping for good weather.