Sportstown & Playful City Awards

Lakewood has been designated a Playful City USA for its family-oriented recreation programs

From its development in the early 1950s, Lakewood’s physical plan created a unique sense of community with its intimate relationships between neighborhoods, schools, parks and convenient shopping.

In 1957, the original city council adopted a recreation philosophy that emphasized the development of many neighborhood parks and active programs for pre-schoolers, youngsters, and adults. In the 1970s and 1980s, more programs were added to provide recreational opportunities for seniors.

Over 65 years later, those decisions pay dividends as nearly every resident can walk to a neighborhood park.

The Lakewood recreation tradition continues today with comprehensive and diverse programs at 12 parks, two community swimming pools, and two community centers.

"Playful City" designation

The City of Lakewood, California won the "Playful City USA" designation multiple years, in recognition of Lakewood’s quality parks, playgrounds and recreation services.

Playful City USA recognitions are made by the non-profit organization KaBOOM! in an effort to promote children’s recreation and the creation of more places for children to play. 

Lakewood’s Playful City USA strengths included:

  • The city’s commitment to maintaining and improving its 12 parks.
  • The free After-School Activity Zones operated year-round at Lakewood parks, where children can play, do homework and take part in sports leagues, all in a supervised setting.
  • Family Play Day, held every year in August at four Lakewood parks, with activities to get family members playing together outdoors.

Lakewood named California’s ‘Sportstown’ by Sports Illustrated magazine

Mayor Todd Rogers accepts Sports Illustrated award

In 2004, Sports Illustrated named Lakewood “Sportstown” in celebration of the magazine’s 50th anniversary.

Lakewood was the only California city so designated.

Sports Illustrated, in a joint program with the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA), designated one community in each of the fifty states as a Sportstown USA. Photo: Mayor Todd Rogers accepts Sportstown award.

Lakewood, coincidentally celebrated its 50th anniversary of incorporation in 2004, and was the last of the 50 cities to be honored as a Sportstown for its community involvement in healthy, active sports programs.

"These communities represent high standards of quality through sports, development, growth, and overall commitment to excellence,” notes Sports Illustrated. “One city in each state has been announced each week beginning in July 2003.”

Lakewood was named California’s Sportstown in the July 5 edition of Sports Illustrated.(PDF, 187KB)

Lakewood Youth Sports values

Lakewood Youth holding baseball

The Lakewood Youth Sports (LYS) program was founded in the 1950s on principles of participation and sportsmanship adopted by parents serving as volunteer coaches and enforced by professional recreation staff.

Parents sign a pledge to support the LYS ETHICS (Enthusiasm to Help Improve Children’s Sports) principles. The ETHICS program articulates a commitment to good sportsmanship, reduced pressure for competition, and positive support for players, coaches, and officials.

Coaches are required to sign The Coach's Goals and Objectives, promising to act as positive role models, maintain positive coaching methods, instruct parents and spectators in ETHICS principles, learn the rules, communicate with staff and follow general guidelines of behavior.

At the conclusion of the season, one team is selected as “sportsmanship champion” for each league. The sportsmanship award includes a certificate and a sportsmanship water bottle for each player on the team selected. The reward program adds incentive to exhibit good sporting behavior.

The history of Lakewood Youth Sports

What has come to be known as Lakewood Youth Sports, or LYS, began when Lakewood’s recreation department advertised baseball signups at city parks for the summer of 1957. Recreation officials weren't sure how many children would respond. When 650 players signed up, park officials weren't sure how they would be able to afford to pay coaches for the 46 teams that were to be organized.

Jack Huntsinger was one of the first employees of the recreation department. He remembers coming up with a unique solution to the problem. He and park supervisors spent the days after the signups calling the parents of the youngsters who had signed up to play, in an effort to recruit volunteers to coach the teams.

"This was during the period," explains Huntsinger, "when professional coaches and Little League programs dominated sports activities. Recreation programs typically had one or two teams at each recreation center coached by paid staff. Lakewood had the advantage of starting from scratch in developing a new way of providing team sports."

Traditional ages for the competitive sports leagues had always been 8-17 years, ignoring the younger age groups and missing an opportunity to begin instructing at a young age. In 1980, a pilot program for T-Ball was introduced. From that, the now-popular Smurf division for 6-7 year olds offered low-key, non-competitive opportunities as an introduction to team play in baseball, flag football, and basketball.

The city's commitment to quality sports programs for the youth of the community is best illustrated by the fact that no fee has ever been required of Lakewood residents. The three sports seasons average nearly 900 participants and over 200 volunteer coaches.

Lakewood youth and adult fitness opportunities today

Teen baseballers

Today, Lakewood continues to be a tight-knit community. The typical array of Little League baseball, fast pitch softball, Pop Warner football, and AYSO soccer flourishes amid neighborhood parks and school campuses. Meanwhile, Lakewood’s Recreation and Community Services Department provides a complement of sports opportunities that supplement and often provide alternatives for residents.

Early Lakewood Youth Team

Youth baseball and softball enthusiasts can choose between Little League, fast pitch softball and other independent leagues playing a late winter through spring league or the city’s summer baseball and softball season. In the fall season, the city’s flag football and volleytennis programs complement Pop Warner football and cheer programs and AYSO soccer leagues. The city’s basketball leagues round out the sports year in wintertime.

In the sports-friendly climate of Southern California, adults take advantage of three annual seasons of softball leagues, including slow pitch leagues for men and co-recreational divisions. The addition of women’s volleytennis makes sports a year-round experience. Access to a middle school gymnasium provides an opportunity to offer indoor, drop-in volleyball and basketball.

(Historic 1970s photo, at left above. See complete historic photo gallery section.)

Lakewood also offers two pools for pre-summer and summer swim instruction, a landscaped nature trail along the San Gabriel River, walking and jogging circuits and outdoor fitness equipment at Rynerson Park, and access to the Lakewood Equestrian Center for horse owners and those wanting to learn to ride.

Lakewood’s park and recreation traditions have endured the test of time, adjusting to serve Lakewood’s 80,000 residents. In line with Lakewood's motto, "Times Change, Values Don't," sports remain an integral part of the city's fabric. Although Sportstown USA was awarded in 2004, the city has maintained the values for which it was recognized by Sports Illustrated.

Lakewood history materials

The Lakewood Story: Chapter 6 looks at "Kid City" then; Sportstown USA see Lakewood today

The sixth chapter of the Lakewood Story pays particular attention to how kids and the community shaped one another. These roots played a role Lakewood being honored as a Sportstown USA city by Sport Illustrated for 2004 coinciding with the city's 50th anniversary.

Chapter 6 "Kid City" begins:

"The average block in the new city of Lakewood in 1959 could have had as many as a hundred young people under the age of eighteen. Wherever parents looked they saw kids filled with restless energy. Lakewood's civic traditions began with efforts to focus all this 'kid power' into sports and recreation programs that would help families cope. As these original kids of Lakewood aged through childhood and in to adolescence, their needs changed, as did the city's recreation programs and park facilities."

Click here to read the chapter(PDF, 766KB)