For five Saturdays this summer, longtime volunteer Mark Peters spends his time setting out cones, equipping players and organizing volunteers who gather in the shadows of Spartan Field for friendly but competitive games of flag football.
Peters’ Hope Youth Foundation hosts a flag football league for children as part of the battle against childhood obesity.
Nearly 50 local boys — and even one smiling, neighborhood girl — came together in the empty field along La. 44 on Saturday to participate in a miniature flag football game while parents lined the sidelines with their lawn-chair umbrellas and truck tailgates.
Peters uses flag football — along with several other sports — to help encourage kids to get out of the house during the summer and get active.
“I just wanted to see the kids busy, see the kids doing something,” Peters said. “I saw too many times where kids are doing nothing.”
Peters said he wanted to get involved with a program like this after becoming concerned with the growing trend of childhood obesity in the Ascension Parish area.
According to a 2011 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Ascension Parish has a 32.8 percent obesity prevalence rate, up from 25.1 percent in 2004. Similarly, the CDC lists Louisiana as leading the country with a 34.7 percent prevalence rate.
“Louisiana has one of the worst obesity rates in the country, and one of the things we can do is keep kids active,” Peters said. “I feel like it’s a challenge for me to help make a difference in the community by offering this for the kids.”
The Hope Youth Foundation is a nonprofit organization that hosts a series of activities for the local youth, including what Peters described as the only youth golf teaching program and only flag football program in the parish. The program also holds tennis camps and will host the Hope Bike-A-Thon next month, where Peters invites local families to take a 2-mile bike ride through Gonzales.
“It’s good because you don’t see things like this a lot,” said Keshawn Brooks, an East Ascension High School senior football player who volunteers to referee the flag football games. “It gets kids active, and that’s something we need.”
Peters’ plans include a foray into public office. Peters said he will run for the Ascension Parish School Board in November.
“I can have a greater impact with the kids by me being affiliated with the school,” Peters said. “By me being affiliated with a lot of the kids through the sports, I’ll be able to make a lot of decisions that help the kids. … I think it’s an easy fit for a position like that.”