Giving local kids a chance to become winners, champions, or at the very least, providing an opportunity for them to experience the positive results that collaboration and teamwork with peers can bring, is the guiding principal behind the Cambria Youth Athletic Association.
“It doesn’t matter who you are, what you do, or where you come from, everybody’s equal on the playing field,” said Gary Stephenson, CYAA President. “Everybody is on a team, and they experience great joy and success playing sports. And it’s a chance for the community to show our kids how great they can be if they work hard and if they try hard.
“These are lessons we want kids in our community to take with them as they grow. If they try hard, they can succeed at something. At any CYAA event, when you look into the stands, you see the parents who wouldn’t normally interact with each other, cheering not just for their kids or their kids’ team, but for all the kids.
“It really heightens community spirit. It brings a lot of joy to the families and a lot of confidence to the kids. This is a community that doesn’t necessarily lift sports winners on its shoulders and march them through town. But sports lift the whole community.”
Nine years ago, Stephenson volunteered to run the youth programs previously handled by Leslie Wilhite — Coach Pitch and T-Ball programs — and that was his launch into this community-based, sports-based movement. He has served as president for the past five years.
CYAA provides several programs for youth: Coach-Pitch, T-Ball, basketball and soccer; the group also recently offered a flag football program in Cambria, but over the past two years, not enough participants have signed up.
“It was a huge disappointment that it hasn’t worked out,” Stephenson remarked. “I’m a big fan of that program.”
The CYAA began informally in the late 1970s but was not incorporated until 1997, according to Nancy Poulos, the CYAA treasurer. The organization also supports other groups and individuals in Cambria “that might need our financial assistance,” Stephenson explained. For example, a sports team or an individual not directly linked to the CYAA might need money to enter a tournament.
“Our board might help them with that,” Stephenson said.
In order to support their youth athletic programs and to provide small grants to groups and individuals on a one-time basis, CYAA operates fundraisers such as the Pier to Point 5K in the fall. Runners and walkers leave the San Simeon pier, go through Hearst Corp. property to San Simeon Point, then back to the pier.
Stephenson also explained that the Lions Club of Cambria contributes “a fair amount of our funding” each year. What Stephenson hopes for in the future is that every kid who plays sports in the CYAA programs will be able to play without having to come up with an entrance fee.
“We charge the least amount for sports participation in this town, but I would love some day to not have to charge any of the families in town anything for their kids to play ball. It’s a lofty goal, but this is such a generous town.”
Chris Gutierrez, the sports director of CYAA, has been heading up the two soccer seasons (spring and fall) and the basketball programs for 10 years. He got involved while he was coaching his daughter in soccer. “They said, ‘Do you want to be in charge?’ and I said, “OK.”
“Seeing the enjoyment on the kids’ faces — I enjoy watching those smiles — and seeing happy parents is why I do this. When kids make a good play or score goals, it makes everyone happy,” Gutierrez explained.
As to which sport he prefers coaching or watching, soccer or basketball, Gutierrez said basketball is actually his favorite sport, but he prefers working with CYAA soccer, because “I like being outdoors.”
Known as an enthusiastic Los Angeles Clippers’ fan — he drives down to Los Angeles for games and drives back the same evening — Gutierrez (class of 1997) never played sports at Coast Union. But, he served as scorekeeper for volleyball, baseball and basketball, and he kept stats for Broncos football.
Meanwhile, as an example of how CYAA helps other organizations, the Cambria Tennis Club is holding teaching clinics this summer — under the umbrella of CYAA — on Wednesdays and Saturdays (after the Fourth of July). The lessons are free to participants ages 11 to 16 and are held from 1 to 3 p.m.