Scout 'S.P.A.R.K.S.' girls' interest in sports

| 07 Mar 2019 | 01:56

    By Laurie Gordon
    HAMPTON - Annika Johnson, who golfs on her high school boys golf team, has successfully introduced her school district to a program she calls Sports Propel and Reward Kids (S.P.A.R.K,). It's all about enabling school girls in the district to have more exposure to sports opportunities offered by Kittatinny Regional High School.
    The idea goes back to her days in the McKeown Elementary School cafeteria, where she participated in Girl Scouts.
    “When I was in fourth grade, all my friends were in Girl Scouts,” she said. ”I wanted to join, too, so I joined Troop 70838. The troop was large and I really enjoyed the activities and friendships.”
    That was eight years ago, and now there are four girls remaining in Troop 70838, led by Dot Smalley. Johnson was making a myriad of wonderful memories all while girls dropped out of the program. That started Johnson wondering how to ensure that girls do not miss out on significant, life-changing opportunities, whether through attrition or lack of exposure to begin with.
    “One of the most memorable moments while camping was when we tried to bake cookies together in the camp’s kitchen," she said. "Let’s just say that although we tried really hard, it didn’t work out that well. However, we had a lot of laughs and an awesome time hiking around the frozen lake, making crafts and climbing up a rock wall. Whenever we are together, we have a great time, we work together and support one another through everything.”
    When it came time to contemplate a project for her Gold Award, Johnson noted that as an athlete at Kittatinny Regional High School, she noticed that same type of attrition happening that had happened in Girl Scouts.
    "So I had the idea to start a club where girls in the elementary school would be introduced to sports available in high school. I wanted the girls to learn about each sport and I figured the best way to learn is to actually play," she said. "The high school coaches and athletes are also the best representatives for their specific sport, and I really wanted them to experience a day of being on the team.”
    Johnson drew upon her own experience of having learned golf when she was four years old.
    “This early start has helped me in the long run, and I wanted to 'spark' that same kind of love for a sport in another girl," she said.
    Johnson first met with Matt Majka, her Gold Award Project Adviser and the girls' Varsity Soccer Coach at Kittatinny for support and advice. Then, she met with Dr. Janet Goodwin, the Principal at McKeown Elementary School, to propose the idea. Shannon Crane, the Health and Physical Education teacher at McKeown, offered to be the club’s adviser. Johnson created a flyer advertising the club, selected dates for meetings, printed out permission slips and a list of sports to be included.
    “I was so excited when I received the news that 17 girls joined S.P.A.R.K.,” Johnson said. “I knew that the club was finally a reality. I couldn’t wait to start. I now needed to connect our meeting dates with the sports at the high school. Every coach and high school athlete at Kittatinny was so helpful and encouraging. The girls visited with almost every coach and team at the high school level.”
    The group started with soccer and then played field hockey, golf, tennis, lacrosse, basketball, softball and football. The girls took part in track and field and color guard. They watched a swimming practice and took a karate/self defense class, and took in an “all star” volleyball game. The 3rd- through 6th-graders in S.P.A.R.K. attended high school games together and Johnson held a Sports Equipment Drive to collect gently used sports equipment.
    Having attended McKeown Elementary herself, she said, I realize that children in elementary schools look up to the teenagers in high school, especially when it comes to sports. "Living in a world with so much technology, sports are a great way to put down the phone or tablet and have a great time with friends," she said. "Sports create great opportunities including college scholarships, self confidence and lifelong friendships.”
    Johnson has played on the Boy's Varsity Golf Team at Kitatinny for the past four years. The team competes in nine hole matches at their home course of Hidden Acres in Sandyston. She will attend Fairfield University in the fall and is looking forward to competing on Fairfield University’s Women’s Golf Team and studying English for Secondary Education. Johnson aspires to earn a master’s degree and become a high school English teacher. But that's not where her dream ends.
    “My dream is to become a writer or director as well, working in Hollywood or Broadway to continue to inspire others to do what they love in life,” she said.