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Games trailer brings new life to parks

Aaron Clark said the rules of gaga ball weren't new to him as others entered a nearby plastic octagonal pit to play a game that's akin to a gentle version of dodgeball.

Instead of throwing the brightly colored ball with all their might, players quickly pushed it around the pit, seeking to hit another player in the shins. Opponents jumped out of the way of the soft foam ball before scrambling to be the next to pick a target.

Each game continued until only one player remained, as those who were hit left the pit

The 9-year-old Clark said he played the game at camp, but hadn't seen it locally until it rolled out with Go! Play! Explore! mobile recreation unit Saturday morning on the Rochesterfest grounds in Soldiers Memorial Field Park.

Ben Boldt, recreation supervisor for Rochester Park and Recreation, said the newness of the game is one of the reasons it was picked for the trailer, which will start moving to various parks this week.


"A few schools are starting to get it now," he said, but noted it's still new enough to excite youths when they get a chance to play the high-energy game.

Clark and his sister, Marianna, 8, along with others, took turns in the pit, which was set up on the south side of the Rochesterfest grounds to debut a project funded by a $52,000 legacy grant from Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee .

The mobile playground stems from a grant application submitted by Olmsted County Public Health , and Rochester's park and rec department became involved for day-to-day operations.

Public health education manager Kari Etrheim said the goal is to get more youths active by taking advantage of local parks and making social connections.

"It's kids learning how to engage in spontaneous, yet directed, activity and creating social time," she said, noting many older youths might not create new social connections unless they are part of formal teams or activities.

The trailer also includes portable disc golf baskets, soccer goals and yard games for all ages. Boldt said his department worked on a schedule that takes the trailer to parks that might not get as much attention as others.

"We also tried to spread it around the city a bit," he said.

Along with the trailer and equipment will come a crew of seasonal park employees to set up and oversee activities.


Some outings will feature just the mobile park, but others are being planned in connection with the Rochester Public Library's book bike or other attractions, to help get word out and attract participants.

As parents watched their children play among the many activities set up Saturday, several said they might take their children to other parks to visit the mobile unit.

"As long as it's in our general area, I would take them to it," said Candice Lee of Rochester, who noted she'd like to see what the trailer will offer during winter months when activities can be lacking.

Boldt and Etrheim noted the current schedule and contents were designed to be flexible. Etrheim helped solicit input for youths this spring to determine the activities to start with, and Boldt noted adjustments can be made as they see how things are used.

While many of the children at the Rochesterfest outing were younger, Etrheim said there was a distinct effort to find things that would appeal to older youths, who can become bored with traditional park activities.

"As you move up in age, the slides and swings just don't cut it," she said, as children of various ages continued to move in and out of the gaga-ball pit.

Super Bowl Host Committee planners ready to roll out fun

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