The start of a new school year also means the start of a new sports season, and parents looking for an athletic outlet for young kids in the Lowcountry have a wealth of options.

Both the Beaufort County Parks and Recreation Department and the Island Recreation Center offer a wide range of youth sports programs. Other groups such as the First Tee of the Lowcountry and numerous private organizations give parents even more opportunities to get their children up and moving. 

Parents can find a full slate of sports leagues and programs this fall. 

Among them is the return of Hilton Head Gator football, which took the season off a year ago but is ready to launch its 52nd season in August for players ages 6-12. The Gator program also offers an option for young cheerleaders. 

“We’re back at it, and hopefully we can get some kids to participate,” said Bob Rozek, recreation and facilities director for the Island Recreation Center. “Our numbers are definitely coming back stronger, and all of our camps have had great participation this summer.”

Individual sports that are played outdoors, such as golf and tennis, gained popularity in the past year. Rozek said the Island Rec Center’s tennis program has picked up steam with local pro Royce Silvan leading a growing group of young players ranging from beginner to intermediate players looking to take on the junior tournament circuit.

Another sport that continues to grow in popularity is lacrosse, and both the Island Rec Center and Beaufort County offer programs for players of all skill levels, including Island Rec’s “Scoops” lacrosse program. 

Beaufort County is no longer offering tackle football — private programs such as the Lowcountry Lightning, Bluffton Bulldogs, Beaufort Wildcats and Extra Mile Club have filled that void — but the county has seen tremendous growth in its flag football program and is also offering clinics in Gaelic football.

“Flag football has been blowing up,” said Justin Petock, athletic supervisor for Beaufort County Parks and Recreation. “We’ve been doing some fun things like a little ‘Pro Bowl’ type all-star game at the end of the season, and we’ll have up to 200 people out at the games.”

Soccer remains one of the most popular youth sports in the area. Kids can get started in the county’s recreational soccer program as young as age 4, with more options available as they grow older.

“Just getting them into that team-sport mentality early is important,” Petock said. “Once they turn 5 and 6, that’s when they get the whole spectrum of sports opened up to them.”

While area all-star baseball and softball teams have been competing for state championships this summer, players who are looking for an introduction to the diamond or hoping to hone their skills in hopes of making next year’s all-star teams have the option of playing in fall developmental leagues. 

The Hilton Head Baseball Association and Bluffton Youth Sports, in partnership with Beaufort County Parks and Recreation, offer non-competitive fall leagues that give inexperienced players a chance to learn the game and allow intermediate players to sharpen their skills. 

The benefits of getting children started in sports early go beyond the obvious health factors and include learning how to win and lose with grace; learning discipline and respect for authority; developing persistence, dedication and patience; and developing self-esteem. 

And, of course, socializing with their peers and building lasting friendships.

“I see some of these kids who met playing soccer when they were young, and 10 years out of high school they’re still good friends,” Rozek said, “and that’s important.”

That goes not only for the young athletes but also for their parents, especially those who have recently moved to the area. 

“You’ll meet great people,” Rozek said. “There are a lot of great people out there, and sports just brings us all together.”

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