City of Redding's Grasshopper Sports Program
By Kerri Regan
Lil' LeagueMay 2016
Story by Kerri Regan
Photos by Erin Claassen
A teenager crosses paths with Gina Woznica at the mall and knows he recognizes her, but can’t quite figure out why.
“If I was wearing a green shirt would you know me?” Woznica asks.
Over the past 18 years, more than 10,000 children have learned to kick a ball, swing a bat and run for a touchdown through the City of Redding s Grasshopper Sports program, which Woznica and Theresa Urrcelqui launched in 1998 with a soccer class. “Theresa and I both wanted something for our young kids to be able to do,” Woznica says. “We wanted to offer a social, physical activity where kids could come out and learn different kinds of sports in a non-competitive setting.”
Since then, more than 600 classes have been offered in kickball, football, basketball, softball, baseball and indoor soccer. The annual Grasshopper Olympics features about a dozen stations, including baseball, basketball, disc golf, races, parachutes and an obstacle course. In the annual Grasshopper Triathlon, kids ride their bikes, then run, then climb aboard a “hopper” and hop their way through a course.
Mini-Grasshopper courses are available to 2 and 3 year olds, and they offer a smaller class size with simpler activities. For many, it’s the start of a love for sports that extends all the way to high school – and sometimes beyond.
In the Grasshopper Sports Zone next to Redding City Hall, Coach Gina models the positivity that she wants her tiny athletes to emulate. “I want it to be a positive experience for kids and parents,” Woznica says. “I model for the parents first, so they can see how I want them to work with their kid in a positive way. It takes a lot of work to retrain your brain to tell kids what you want them to do.”
With a smile that can’t (and shouldn’t) be contained, Anthony Webb, 5, administers a swift kick to a soccer ball, sending it into the goal. “I like kicking it to my mom,” Anthony says. “The kids that are really good, I see how good they’re doing and I copy it so I can be as good as them. Kids sometimes watch me, too.”
Meanwhile, Alexis Arnett’s blond ringlets bounce behind her as she darts down the field, giggling as she chases a yellow ball. It’s her first Grasshopper sport, but mom Lisa says she’ll sign up for softball, as well. “It’s teaching her coordination and how to be part of a team,” Lisa says. “It gets her energy going.”
Although Woznica has handed off weekend and indoor soccer classes to other instructors, she still teaches Grasshopper soccer, softball and basketball, as well as Farm Camp. Some kids who were knee-high to a grasshopper when they met Woznica through this program are now teens who teach classes alongside her. “Isn’t that fun?” she asks.
Woznica’s career has also evolved since that first Grasshopper class. She worked her way through college and a teacher credentialing program while raising her own three kids and running numerous Redding Recreation classes, including Grasshopper Sports, Giggle Bugs and Toddler Travels (all of which she co-founded) and Tiny Tots and ABC-123 (which she inherited). She is now a kindergarten teacher at Manzanita Elementary School, an achievement that she says was largely made possible by Urrcelqui’s encouragement and support. “Because I was teaching the Redding Recreation classes, I didn’t have to take my kids to daycare – they got to go with me and be with me. I’m so grateful for that,” says Woznica, the mother of Cody (15), Taeler (19) and Kaishla (21).
She’s proud of how the programs have grown. She has helped write grants (mostly through First 5 Shasta) that paid for new furniture and educational materials for Tiny Tots, and for a shade structure and equipment for summer preschool camps at Enterprise Community Park. “We needed to be able to bring our classroom outside,” she says. “We wanted a sandbox, easels for outside, picnic tables, sensory gardens with herbs where kids could take scissors and cut the plants to smell them,” she says.
And she hopes to never stop looking at the world through a child’s eyes. Years ago, she was leading the Toddler Travels class, where preschoolers and their parents would go on field trips. (The class is no longer offered for lack of an instructor, though Woznica hopes someone will offer to teach it again one day.) “We were walking along the river trail, and in one spot we saw a bird’s nest, then there were some fresh berries to pick. Then we saw fishermen fly fishing from a boat, then we saw a snake. One parent said, ‘Did you plant all of this?’ This is what you see when we take the time to stop and notice. If you are with your kids, stop and look and listen, and watch. This is what you’ll see every day.”