Photo |  Aspen Institute

“State of Play: Mobile County” features results from a survey of more than 1,700 youngsters, 40 findings on strengths and gaps in providing access to sports, five major recommendations, one big “game changer” opportunity and 24 sector-specific ideas stakeholders could adopt.

In September 2017, the Community Foundation of South Alabama (CFSA) announced its partnership with the Aspen Institute and the Jake Peavy Foundation on Project Play — an opportunity to reimagine sports in the U.S. with health and inclusion as core values.

The goal was to unite the Aspen Institute and local community leaders in conducting an analysis of the landscape of youth sports in Mobile County. Organizers say low-income children were being left on the sidelines, and with them so were the opportunities to allow these children to play and become productive members of society,

“State of Play: Mobile County,” a 46-page report by the Aspen Institute’s Sports & Society Program (SSP), has been released. It offers recommendations for growing access to quality sport options for all children. The report is the product of a seven-month analysis examining how well adults in the community are serving youth through sports, regardless of ZIP code or ability.

Project Play was launched in 2013 by the SSP. The initiative convenes the nation’s top “thought leaders” from sports, medicine, media, business innovation, government and philanthropy to develop strategies for building healthy and thriving communities for all.

Guided by a task force of local leaders, “State of Play: Mobile County” features results from a survey of more than 1,700 youngsters. There are 40 findings on strengths and gaps in providing access to sports, five major recommendations, one big “game changer” opportunity and 24 sector-specific ideas stakeholders could adopt.

Key findings

The full report is available at Among its key findings:

• Basketball (boys) and cheerleading/dance (girls) are the most popular sports. The No. 1 reason youth said they play sports is to be with friends; winning came in at No. 9.

• Girls have fewer sports opportunities than boys. Just 15 percent of girls ages 14 to 18 get the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity, compared to 36 percent for boys.

• Approximately 26 percent of youth said they have played in a game where adults bet on the result, most commonly football. The report recommends municipalities improve permit standards for facility use.

• Mobile County has fewer recreation and fitness facilities than the national average. Old warehouses are being used to create innovative play spaces.

• Children with disabilities have less access to sports. One-third of Alabama families with such a child say it is “very hard” to obtain recreational opportunities.

Sponsors of report

Joining CFSA and the Jake Peavy Foundation in commissioning the report was the Caring Foundation of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama.

CFSA is a nonprofit charitable organization that plays a key role in meeting the needs of an eight-county region through leadership and grants. The foundation serves as a forum for donors, volunteers and the community to share ideas, identify issues and build financial resources necessary to make improvements and positively impact the community.

“We are pleased that the Aspen Institute chose to support Mobile County in identifying opportunities to build healthier kids and communities through sports,” said CFSA President and CFO Rebecca Byrne. “Through our Closing the Opportunity Gap Initiative, the Community Foundation is leading and investing in a variety of ways to increase opportunity for kids, including participation in sports for children K-12.”

The Jake Peavy Foundation is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt charitable organization founded in 2012 by Peavy, a Major League Baseball pitcher and Mobile native. After playing for the Mobile BayBears, he won the National League Cy Young Award in 2007 for San Diego and picked up World Series rings with Boston in 2013 and San Francisco the following year.

The Jake Peavy Foundation supports sports, music and the arts, along with financial literacy programs that transform the lives of young people, particularly those in underserved and at-risk communities across America. The foundation builds programs in markets where Peavy has played during his career: Chicago, San Diego, Boston, San Francisco and Mobile. Locally, the foundation is best known for hosting the main stage at the Ten65 Festival.

“We are appreciative of the Aspen Institute’s work in Mobile County and are excited for our local community to have access to the recommendations, which have proven success in the Aspen Institute’s five other markets,” said Peavy, a graduate of St. Paul’s Episcopal School. “It is my hope that we as Mobilians can join forces to strategically address the challenges that our youth face, so that they have a better chance at succeeding in life both on and off the field.”

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C. According to its website, its mission is to foster leadership based on enduring values and to provide a nonpartisan venue for dealing with critical issues. “State of Play: Mobile County” is the institute’s first assessment of a single U.S. county, and the sixth overall community report.

“We applaud the desire of Mobile County stakeholders to improve the lives of youth through sports,” said Tom Farrey, SSP executive director. “We encourage the community to seize the opportunity to be a national, regional and state model by taking collective, sustained action guided by our findings.”

Closing the Opportunity Gap

CFSA launched the Closing the Opportunity Gap initiative in October 2016. Its goal is to narrow the opportunity gap for financially fragile children in the foundation’s service area in southwest Alabama. In Mobile County, the child poverty rate is 28 percent. One particular area of focus for the initiative is increasing youth access to extracurricular activities.

“Far too many children from low-income areas, like many of the neighborhoods all over southwest Alabama, have less access to everything, including quality early childhood education, enrichment and extracurricular activities that give them the emotional, social and educational skills and opportunities necessary to succeed later in life,” said Byrne. “That is why this partnership between the Community Foundation of South Alabama, the Aspen Institute and the Jake Peavy Foundation to close the opportunity gap and allow all children to have access to extracurricular activities is so exciting and so promising.”

For more information on Closing the Opportunity Gap and “State of Play: Mobile County,” contact Brooke Switzer, director of community initiatives, at or 251-445-6295.