Photos by J. Leonard Photography
Youth sports programs have exploded in the past few years with more kids competing now than ever before. That’s due in part to the rapid growth of school districts and thanks to parents and community leaders like Todd Jakopovic, President of the Elkhorn Youth Sports Association (EYSA), and his wife Dannye, who together run the Elkhorn Attack and Elite boys and girls basketball programs for third through eight graders, and Elkhorn youth flag football program for kindergarten through sixth graders.
Todd’s involvement began 10 years ago when he volunteered to coach his son’s football team; he was then was asked to become an EYSA board member and shortly thereafter its president. “At the time it was just tackle football and there weren’t any basketball teams in the program,” he said. In 2006 he decided to coach his son’s basketball team. In 2007 he coached two teams, and as interest continued to gain, he formed the Attack program for boys in 2009. “We had 15 teams that first year,” he said. “Today we have 61 boys’ teams and 21 girls’ teams, plus 55 flag football teams. I believe they are all the largest programs of their kind in the state.”
All of the programs are primarily made up of kids from the Elkhorn School District. Flag football has more than 600 kids, boys’ basketball sees about 500 kids per year, and girls’ basketball has 200 per year. With that many kids participating, it requires many hours of administrative work, which Dannye oversees, including registrations, the web site, and ordering uniforms. Todd also works a regular full-time job and said most nights he is up until 1 a.m. working on some aspect of EYSA’s programs.
The couple is also committed to making the programs affordable for families, and one way they’ve been able to keep costs down is by working with the Elkhorn School District’s administration for the use of gym space. “None of this would be possible without the district’s leadership, and we are so grateful for that,” Todd said. “They have been amazing to work with.”
Todd also gives credit to the many parent volunteer coaches. “Sometimes parents are hesitant to coach, but once they go through our training and work with the kids that first season, they are usually hooked and want to coach long after their kids are no longer in the program,” he said. The coaching positions aren’t paid because Todd believes part of the success of the programs is for parents to have a stake in their children’s development.
“We try to be progressive in everything we do,” he said. “All of our coaches undergo background checks and we provide training and coach’s clinics in addition to providing them with staff shirts, bags, supplies, and a full coaching manual.” Todd is also on a coalition board that helps youth sports programs adhere to concussion law. “We teach coaches how to recognize possible concussions and the steps that must be followed before a player can return,” he added.
In addition to the regular season games, EYSA hosts two annual basketball tournaments. The Elite Girls Rule tournament this past December had 171 teams participate. In January they hosted the boys January Jam tournament with 276 teams. “These tournaments bring in more than 5,000 people to Elkhorn, which supports the local economy,” Todd said.
The programs don’t just benefit Elkhorn. Todd has worked with other communities, including both Bennington and Blair, in helping them develop their own youth sports programs. “I’m happy to share information so that we can all get as many kids as possible involved in sports programs to keep them active, healthy, and learning how to make good choices,” he said. “We always put kids first and focus on them. We want them to have fun, develop, and learn important life skills.”