We believe there is great value in how people and communities play. Playing well - and not just in terms of wins and losses - should be taken seriously by area residents, by the city of Portland and by each of the many communities that make up the region. We believe we all should invest more in playing better than we do today.

Play defines us as people: Do you strive to improve against great odds, both physical and mental, or do you shirk challenge or responsibility? Do you help others excel through teamwork and shared success? Do you act honorably - even when no one is watching - in life and in sports? Do you celebrate today's achievements, but seek even greater success tomorrow? Or are you content?

Play equally defines communities. For one, there is pride: Look only to the Trail Blazers, a sports organization that mirrored what was good about Portland for more than two decades before becoming a national embarrassment. Thankfully of late, the team has reclaimed its maturity and civic rudder.

The livability, fitness and passion of a community can be described by how people play: Think running, walking, hiking, biking, kicking, throwing, shooting or catching a ball. Think windsurfing and fishing - or this summer, not fishing.

Facilities lacking in Portland area

At the Portland Tribune, we take sports seriously. Each week in print and every day online, we tell countless stories about how Portland plays. This week, in our latest edition of ReThinking Portland, we examine 'How We Play.' We have found that while there is much to celebrate, Portland and the region will be challenged to invest in play even more in the future.

This need exists even before the region struggles to accommodate more than 1.6 million additional residents over the next 25 or so years.

Fields, tracks and gyms are in short supply, and many are overused and in need of significant repair. Some communities, such as Portland, Beaverton and Hillsboro, are rich in park and recreation facilities.

Others, including Tigard, are not. And still more communities, Tualatin among them, may soon seek voter support of tax bond measures to fund recreational facilities.

Beyond facilities, coaching is a spotty problem. Since the adoption of property tax limits in 1990, the coaching of middle school kids' sports largely has been removed from the schools and placed in the hands of volunteers.

Most of these coaches are well-meaning parents, but they may not be prepared to coach other kids. In some elite leagues, coaches are paid. So if a family can afford the fee, their child gets knowledgeable coaching. But if your family is like most, and cannot afford paid coaches, you have to rely on volunteers.

Think strategically about sports

We think that recreation, fitness and the benefits of play contribute immensely to Oregon's quality of life - so much so that we think it's time that the Portland City Council acts along with other regional groups to make playing a bigger part of the region's strategic plans.

There are civic models worth inspecting and copying. Beaverton's Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District was honored two years ago as one of the nation's finest by Sports Illustrated magazine. Indianapolis has become the mecca of U.S. amateur sports organizations.

A bit of balance and focus will be required. We should first focus on kids - kids playing well and often. The more children there are at play, the happier and healthier a place Portland will be.

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