The Sports Path Less Traveled

Melissa Kossler Dutton
Jakob Janoski takes aim at water polo practice at St. Charles Preparatory School in Bexley.

Central Ohio offers kids many opportunities to be active. Children can start playing baseball, soccer and basketball as young as 3 years old.

But as they get older, some children are drawn to sports that are less familiar to their parents and communities. Locally, kids are learning a variety of sports that don't typically make the evening news or local sports pages.

Throughout the year, area kids head to the pool to practice throwing a ball one-handed or hit the gym to learn to vault over obstacles or head outside to lob a flying disc into a basket.

Exposing kids to a variety of sports helps them find the activity that clicks for them, said John Engh, chief operating officer at the National Alliance for Youth Sports in West Palm Beach, Florida. Some kids are motivated by the opportunity to try something new or pursue something their parents haven't done, he said. He encourages parents to look at their kids' skill sets and think about what activity might appeal to them.

"Anything we can do to get them interested and to be active is a good thing," he said. "Even if it's something you're not familiar with."

Jakob Janoski has mixed emotions about the lack of attention given to water polo in central Ohio.

"It is kind of neat that it's not very well known, but it would be cool to have more people playing - to have more competitions," said the 14-year-old Clintonville resident.

He's looking forward to the fall when he will be a freshman at St. Charles Preparatory School and can play on the water polo team there. A number of other high schools in the area field teams for both boys and girls, including Upper Arlington, Thomas Worthington H.S., Worthington Kilbourne H.S. and New Albany H.S. There is also the Columbus Hawks, a team for students whose high schools can't field a full team.

Jakob's first exposure to the pool-based sport was a clinic hosted by the Columbus Water Polo organization in January 2013. He immediately took to the sport, which is played in a standard competition pool and involves throwing a ball one-handed into the other team's goal. Seven players, including the goalie, have four quarters to score the most goals and win the match. Quarters last five to eight minutes, depending on the age of the players.

"It's fun. It's different," he said. "It's constant action rather than stop-and-start like football."

Many people mistakenly believe that players must be strong swimmers, said Maura Moore, head coach and director of Columbus Water Polo.

"It does help," she said, but added that good hand-eye coordination and an ability to understand the rules of the game also are important.

Columbus Water Polo organizes several clinics a year to introduce kids to the sport, Moore said, and runs regular practices throughout the year.

"Our goal is to grow the program," she said.

The organization works to keep the costs low so would-be players are not deterred.

"You need a bathing suit," she said. "We provide balls, ear protection and the rest of the equipment."

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Before Beaux Baldwin even knew what parkour was, the 11-year-old enjoyed doing obstacle courses. Then he heard the sport mentioned on television. He watched a few videos of the activity that involves moving rapidly from one spot to another while negotiating obstacles by running, jumping and climbing. He decided he had to try it.

Beaux began taking classes from Joseph Torchia and got hooked.

"I just like the freedom," said the Columbus resident, who will be a sixth-grader at Indianola K-8 School in the fall. "It isn't boring. It's exciting."

Torchia, who initially taught at recreation centers and outdoors, recently opened a gym dedicated to the discipline, which began in France in the late 1980s. Parkour Horizons has large wood platforms, metal bars, ladders, mats and rope swings. Classes consist of Torchia leading kids or adults through a series of activities - everything from vaulting over a box to swinging on a bar to launching onto a platform. He helps them learn techniques for landing safely and making their movements as efficient as possible.

Parkour helps kids develop motor skills and become problem solvers, Torchia said. He offers classes, open gyms and summer camps to provide opportunities for people to try it. Memberships start at $75 a month.

The sport has been a positive for Beaux, said his dad, Tim Baldwin: "It's really helped build his confidence."

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Blake Tennant and his dad, Mike, enjoy the outdoors. That's why they like playing disc golf together.

The elder Tennant took up the sport about three years ago because it is similar to golf but less expensive. The game involves throwing plastic discs into a series of metal baskets along an outdoor course. The player who uses the fewest number of throws to make the baskets wins. A bag and a few discs cost about $30 to $40, he said.

"Most of the courses are free," the Johnstown resident said. "You can be outside with a couple friends for a few hours."

Central Ohio is home to some great disc golf courses, said Paul Jay, a trustee with the Columbus Flyers Disc Golf Club, which runs an adult league. He sees the sport growing in popularity with families and college students.

"Kids are learning it a lot earlier," he said. "It's a young person's sport."

Once his dad taught him to play, Blake began practicing in the backyard with a portable basket and his dad's discs.

"You have to figure out what disc you're going to use and determine what way the wind is blowing so you know what way to throw it," said the 13-year-old, who will be an eighth-grader at Willis C. Adams Middle School in Johnstown in the fall.

He's grateful that some local tournaments have a youth category but would like more opportunities to play competitively.

"I wish more people would know about it because they would have lots of fun with it," he said.

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