Avon Junior Athletic Association Enables Youth to Participate in a Variety of Sports

The Avon Junior Athletic Association (AJAA) was established in 1963 — 33 years before Avon officially became a town. Initially, it was the Avon Junior Baseball Association when they played as an independent recreational program near the old Harlan factory. Seven years later, they became AJAA when they added softball and football. Shortly thereafter, the association bought the park located at 104 S. County Road 625 E. in Avon. Over the next several years, additional parcels were added to that park.

Today, more than 1,000 boys and girls play AJAA baseball and softball. In addition, the program now offers cheerleading, rugby, volleyball, travel baseball, junior runners, and, of course, basketball. The Hoosier state is known for its love of hoops, and it shows — 1,200 boys and girls between kindergarten and twelfth-grade play AJAA recreational & travel basketball.

The sport wouldn’t be possible were it not for the partnership AJAA has with the Avon School Corporation wherein teams use the gymnasiums in many of the elementary schools, Avon Intermediate School West and Avon High School.

“It’s a really great partnership,” says Jarod Turner, Executive Director of AJAA.

According to Turner, before the YMCA came to town, AJAA was the only organization that offered youth programming other than two Avon soccer associations.

“We perform a huge task for both the township and the town by taking care of the recreational programming leg of what would traditionally be the Parks and Rec Department,” Turner says.

Not only do they manage that programming leg but they do so with zero support from any tax revenue.

“The Town of Avon and Washington Township have some beautiful parks for passive recreation as well as a great trail system,” Turner adds. “But as far as the youth sports go, AJAA has rolled up our sleeves for the past 55 years to ensure that our kids have a place to play.”

That tireless commitment involves a whopping 700 volunteers to make AJAA work because, without volunteer coaches, there is no program.

“It takes a special person to be a volunteer coach,” Turner says. “They have to understand sports psychology to encourage kids properly. Plus, they have to understand the game and be willing to put in the time. They don’t just show up on practice day and babysit the kids.”

Many volunteers coach multiple sports because they care so much.

“The way I gauge success in coaching has nothing to do with wins, losses, trophies or championships,” Turner says. “I see how many kids sign up again because if you can teach a kid a love for the game and make them want to come back and play it again, then, in my book, you’re a successful coach.”

Though AJAA relies on volunteers to keep it running, the organization does employ a handful of full-time positions. Deena Albin, the Director of Operations, works on registration for all programs (AJAA supports 3,600 registrations annually for sports programming, plus 400 registrations for various camps). She also guides volunteer leaders through the draft process, sets up the teams, schedules the games and finds people to officiate games.

“She has her hands in just about everything as it pertains to programs themselves,” Turner says.

Kyle Means is AJAA’s Director of Facilities, in charge of the grounds. He manages part-time staff who helps with game prep for fields. He also negotiates contracts for lawn care and is the contact for their field material suppliers. In addition, he opens and closes all the schools for basketball games and, in snowy weather, he mops the schools’ entryways.

Anthony Moscatello is AJAA’s Member Services Manager.

“That’s a fancy title for being the guy to pick up the slack any time we need somebody in any given situation,” Turner says with a chuckle.

Moscatello is in charge of summer concessions, which includes food rotation, ordering, stocking, shelving and staffing volunteers to work concessions. If no volunteers are available, he fills in.

“On any given Saturday in the summer, you’ll find Anthony working a long day with a smile on his face because he loves being around the kids,” Turner says.

And we mustn’t forget the referees, who do get paid and earn every penny.

“It’s critical to the game and the toughest position there is,” Turner says.

The organization is lucky to have found some dedicated people—many of whom have been with the program for years. One is Brian Sturm—a Washington Township firefighter who has been reffing with AJAA for more than a decade.

“He doesn’t just blow a whistle and tell a kid he got a foul,” Turner says. “He makes it a teachable moment by putting his arm around their shoulder and explaining why they did something wrong.”

It’s also special when AJAA becomes a family affair. For instance, Oz Saleem has been coaching for AJAA for 10 years. Last year, his wife joined AJAA’s Board of Directors.

“It’s cool when you get a whole family involved in the steering of this huge ship,” Turner says.

Saleem says that when they moved to Avon, AJAA made their family feel part of the community.

“Throughout coaching both my boys, it’s amazing how many parents and kids you run into at Meijer and all over Avon,” he says.  

Although the organization has done its best to maintain its ballpark, Turner notes that no major updates have been made in 40 years.

“We’re in dire need of remodeling our clubhouse,” Turner says. “It could really use a new floorplan and design to accommodate the 120,000 visitors we get at the ballpark every year.”

They’re hoping in 2019 to engage community partners to step up. Turner, who has a background in banking and financial advising, does what he can to fill the coffers with reserve funds so that they might expand and explore new opportunities in the future. 

“If we don’t watch our bottom line, this 55-year old baby that belongs to the community kids wouldn’t survive,” says Turner, who has two children —Jackson (13) and Kindall (10) — with his wife Alisha. Jackson has played baseball, basketball, football and lacrosse through AJAA. Kindall has done cheer and flag football.

The Friday before Mother’s Day, AJAA will host a golf outing at Twin Bridges called “Swinging for Scholarships.” It’s a scholarship program that was started by former AJAA Executive Director Amanda Babinec.

“Amanda was trying to find a way that we could get kiddos an opportunity to play even if their parents couldn’t afford the fees,” Turner says.

Any child who is enrolled in Avon schools or lives in the Avon area that qualifies for federal, free and reduced lunch has the opportunity to play at AJAA in any of their programs for a reduced fee. So far, they have been able to provide scholarships for close to 50 kids.

“We want our scholarship fund to have plenty of money so that as many kids as possible can play,” Turner says.

Visit ajaaonline.org to register or get more information.

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