On any given day on the Upper East Side, you’re bound to meet someone involved with the Yorkville Youth Athletic Association (YYAA)—whether it’s a staffer running an afterschool program or a parent coaching a flag football or baseball team. And, for 50 years now (Editor’s note: Mark your calendars for a 50th anniversary on May 17) the not-for-profit has been a mainstay in the neighborhood, upheld as it is by a dedication to competition, camaraderie, and community.
“We’re here because kids want to play sports,” says Arlene A. Virga, YYAA’s executive director. “The other important reason we’re here is the sense of camaraderie families experience when they meet each other and develop friendships, both the kids and the parents.”
Also, no matter his or her skill level there’s something for every kid—grades pre-K-12—whether it’s being part of a soccer, basketball or baseball team, signing up for afterschool programs, including music and drama, or participating in a YYAA camp held over school breaks. With family-friendly fees, the 6,000-plus kids who take part in YYAA programming annually sign up year after year.
Ask Gordon Smeaton, a member of YYAA’s board of directors and he’ll tell you that YYAA is special because it provides an important service for residents of Manhattan (as well as the outer boroughs).
“As we know space is at a premium in New York City and schools cannot always meet the physical activity needs of their students,” Smeaton says. “This, combined with the fact that electronic devices are often dominating leisure time for many families, means that YYAA’s wide ranging programs in sports and the arts are more important than ever.” In fact, the availability of youth sports programs is a big necessity for existing New York City families as well as newcomers, Smeaton adds.
“One of the key questions new families ask is whether there are facilities and access to youth sports programs,” Smeaton says. “YYAA helps to meet this need on a 12-month basis and takes full advantage of the city’s outdoor and indoor facilities, including Central Park, Randall’s Island, and many local school gyms.”
And, in a busy city, YYAA provides a strong sense of community. “The sense of community YYAA creates and the welcoming atmosphere of families throughout the programs is what stands out most to me about YYAA,” says Danny O’Gallagher, deputy director who started out as a volunteer coach for the organization 19 years ago. “The adults connect, too. One of the things that makes us different is that at the core we’re a Little League program with parent volunteers and coaches. That creates a family atmosphere in Central Park, Randall’s Island or in East Harlem where we play flag football. Wherever Yorkville goes, everyone is welcome to come and play.”
O’Gallagher notes that his connection with YYAA is more than just a job. “I adopted my son when he was 12 and he had never played organized sports or on a team,” O’Gallagher explains, adding that his son is now 21. “Part of him becoming part of my family was becoming part of the Yorkville family. It created such a bond between me and him in the early days of the adoption. My son looks back on those days with great joy.”
Looking Forward to 50 More Years
Given the arrival of the Q subway line, there will be a significant increase in new building activity on the Upper East Side over the next decade, which means even more kids ready to sign up for YYAA’s diverse programming. “We’ve added more programs this year,” Virga says. “And one we’re considering adding is cricket as there are lots of people we feel are interested in this sport.”
In the days and years ahead, YYAA will continue offering all the existing programs that have long been beloved by neighborhood kids and beyond. “We’re going to keep our focus where we are,” Virga says. “We’ve been successful, we have good turnouts in everything and, most important, the kids are having a good time.”
With the addition of new family-friendly buildings in the neighborhood, YYAA will serve an even bigger role moving forward.
“My understanding is that there are no fewer than 12 new residential projects that are either underway or in the planning stages,” Smeaton says. “This will bring many more families to the neighborhood and drive greater demand for organized team and individual youth activities, particularly on weekends. YYAA has developed a solid foundation to manage this growth and the organization is in a strong position to expand its programs as the community evolves.”
In addition, the city’s indoor and outdoor facilities have improved dramatically in terms of variety and quality.
“New York City leaders understand the importance of supporting organizations like YYAA to help improve and sustain the quality of life in our city,” Smeaton says. “YYAA is designed to meet these critical community needs and we will continue to adapt to address the needs of our families. In my view, the physical activity and fitness needs of our community will only grow in the near and long term.”
And, with programs like the ones offered by YYAA, kids are sure to experience an unforgettable experience that leaves a lasting impression on participants. “Kids need to out and play and play different sports,” Virga says. “By doing this they use different muscles and they don’t get burnt out. I feel that Yorkville is on the right track for kids to try out lots of things.”
No matter the sport or activity, families treasure their YYAA experiences.
“When I meet people on the street who are now in their late twenties or thirties and have participated in our programs, they thank me for the good times they had,” Virga says. “They tell us about all the great memories they have of YYAA programs. That makes us feel happy and that we’re doing our job.”
To learn more, visit yyaa.org!