Editor’s Note: This continues our Celebrate Community series on North Okaloosa nonprofit organizations that improve our quality of life.  

CRESTVIEW—Youth athletic programs can provide children with exercise, encouragement and an appreciation for hard work and practice. While school provides some of these opportunities, other organizations further meet the need.

Crestview Area Youth Association is one of these groups.

The non-profit organization was established in 2003 and plays in the Panhandle Youth Football Association. The program was created to offer youths an outlet to hone athletic skills in preparation for junior and high school programs.

“Sometimes kids need extra direction from people in their life other than their parents,” CAYA President Terry Jackson said. “We provide that direction for these kids.”

The association has programs serving children ranging from 5 years old to 12 in football and 14 in cheerleading.

Jackson, who recently became involved with CAYA, intends to create more opportunities for local children to participate by adding teams and embracing the region's postseason play. Numbers have already increased with this mission, with participants nearly doubling since 2015.

During Jackson’s service, the league has participated in a two-round playoff model and a championship game in addition to its traditional nine-game regular season. This gives kids an added incentive to practice and improve.

Area businesses’ sponsorships entirely fund the playoff structure, including travel. Jackson said the furthest that CAYA travels is to Panama City, but most trips are contained to Fort Walton, DeFuniak Springs and the Niceville areas.

“Seeing how much we can do to give a better opportunity to the kids is why I love being involved,” Jackson said. “They say sports are a metaphor for life and I think that’s true.”

Children aren’t the only ones who can get involved with CAYA; adults have outlets with the organization as well, according to Jackson. Coaches and assistants are required for cheerleading and football; vetted volunteers fill these roles.

For those not looking to coach, the league relies on volunteers to fill an assortment of positions including concessions, entrance staff, practice field preparers, chain gang staff and clock managers.

CAYA currently is in its offseason. The regular season begins in August of each year and wrap-ups in November. Five to six home games per season are played at Shoal River Middle School.

Visit www.cayafootball.org for more information on registration and rules.