MURFREESBORO, Tenn. -- Four decades ago, Rutherford County was going through several changes within the area.
Many people were transferring in from the big cities, and new schools were either being expanded or added to handle the growth. At the same time, Ben Cates wanted to create something for the children after school and during the summer.
So 41 years ago, Cates, along with a few other people who some are still around today, founded the Rutherford County Recreation Program while using the same schools and facilities in the area which hold classes during the school year.
“We do not build facilities, we use existing ones,” Cates said. “The good part of that is a parent drops their kid off during the summer and winter or when they participate at the ball fields. They helped build those things through their tax dollars, and it gives them a good feeling that they can come back and use that facility.”
A point of emphasis early on for Cates and the rest of the staff, mostly volunteers, was to have open gym at all of the schools. It is free for the students, either after school or during the summer months. When he took over the job back in 1973, one of the first things he did was hire gym directors at each Rutherford County school so the kids could have somewhere to go when classes were over.
“The first thing I wanted to do was get enough money to put a gym director at a school so we can go Monday through Friday,” Cates said. “The gym, especially during the summer, needed to be open during everyday of the week.”
A few years later, junior pro basketball, football, softball and baseball were added to the program. During the next three decades, Cates has seen tremendous growth with all of the different leagues around the area. Currently, the basketball league is in the middle of its season, and baseball and softball will be played this summer.
“We have gone from a few teams staying in their gyms.Now we have over 1,000 kids involved in our junior pro basketball program,” he said. “If you would have told me that 25 years ago, I would have said if we could get a couple of hundred kids that would have been great.”
Most of the different communities in the country have their own sports league, but during the season some of the teams might play teams from another town.
“I saw no reason for a child that lives in Milton to drive to Murfreesboro to practice and play games of baseball,” Cates said. “When we can get a field going out there they practice out there. Some kids from Lascassas might have to go to Kittrell to play games, and they get to play with kids they go to school with, go to church with and they know.”
A few weeks ago, some members of the Lascassas junior pro basketball league got to experience a special treat by being special guests at a Blue Raider men’s basketball game. During halftime, two of the teams got to play a game on the same Murphy Center court where MTSU plays.
“The children and parents were treated so nicely, and they had such a good time,” Cates said. “That might develop into more things. That will be a memory those children will never forget.”
However, there is one important lesson which the program hopes to stress to the parents, and that is to remember that the coaches give up their time after a hard day of work to give the kids important life lessons both on and off the field. It is something Cates and the rest of the staff talk to them about each year before the season starts.
“It is first a recreation league, it is not an athletic league,” Cates said. “Our goal is for the children to come and have fun. In competition, they are learning teamwork, taking instructions, balance winning and losing and being a good sport. Different children will learn and achieve different things. We try to hit that home.”
Besides the youth leagues, there is also an adult volleyball league at Eagleville, and Cates hopes to add more activities in the near future at the different locations in the county.