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“PYA Never Stops…It’s For The Kids”

The fact that Port Washington Youth Activities (PYA) is celebrating its 50th year of working with area boys and girls is quite an accomplishment. Ron Henderson, its executive director for the past 20 years, also has a long history with PYA’s Lions Field that extends all the way back to 1958.

“I played in the first games ever held at the field back then when it was the Port Washington Little League,” said Henderson. “That was before the field was renovated.” The renovation, which began in 1999 and forced the PYA to relocate for two years from its Glen Lane site, now features four Little League fields and one major league field, all on pesticide-free, natural grass. During the fall, the fields are converted for lacrosse and football programs.

“Until the renovation,” Henderson related, “there was no way to maintain the fields. There were no sprinkler systems and many people looked at us and laughed. They wanted to know why we were doing this. But everything around here is about the kids. It always has been and always will be. People now tell us that it is the most beautiful complex on Long Island.” The fields are actually on land that is owned by the Port Washington Water Pollution Control District.

Henderson first got involved with PYA in the 80s when he owned a sporting goods shop across from the LIRR station. Serving on the board of directors led to the executive director position. Henderson was born in Port and proudly says, “I never left.” Both of his children, Kenneth and Deborah, received their sports training in Port and went on to become professional athletes. Kenneth pitched for a number of years in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. Deborah played pro basketball in Portugal, was an All-American at the University of Massachusetts and is a member of the Port Washington Hall of Fame.

The program runs 18 major sports programs year round for both boys and girls with more than 3,500 participants. “It’s a seven days a week job,” says Henderson of his role. “It never stops, but it’s for the kids.”  PYA also runs two-week summer camps in July for baseball, basketball and lacrosse. In August, PYA will send two teams to play at the Hall of Fame in upstate Cooperstown.

Henderson is especially proud of the accomplishments of the Little League. “Last year we were the only town on Long Island to have three District 28 championships, 10-year-olds, 11-year-olds and 12-year-olds,” he pointed out.

To celebrate its 50th anniversary, the organization is holding a fundraising dinner dance at the North Hempstead Country Club on Friday, June 14. Two new candidates, Billy Omeltchenko and the late Stephen Zaccherio, will be inducted into its Hall of Fame. Omeltchenko, a basketball star at Great Neck North and Princeton, is a former PYA president. Zaccherio, who passed away in January, was on the board of directors. “He was a coach, a referee, he did a little of everything” added Henderson. “He was also instrumental in the rebuilding of Lions Field.”

PYA is privately funded. Henderson credits former State Senator Mike Balboni as the last government official who was able to succeed in obtaining funds for the organization. “We get a lot of help from the Port Washington Community Chest and the Dejana Foundation for scholarships,” Henderson said. “They’ve given us over 200 scholarships for uniforms, equipment and registration fees.”

PYA can be reached at 516-944-7921.