Jr. Olympics Combats Teen Pregnancy

By Stephen Govett – 

Concerned about the growing program of teenage pregnancy in the Phoenix metro area, Bob Wycoff, program director for The Salvation Army’s South Mountain Community Center, decided to address the issue.

Recalling an article reporting women athletes in college having a lower pregnancy rate, he decided to apply this principle for high school girls and four years ago, started the Salvation Army Junior Olympics (SAJO) volleyball team. “Many of these girls have been told they are worthless and can’t do anything,” said Wycoff. “Part of the SAJO program is to show these girls that with practice, they can do anything. It just takes work.”

The girls spend a lot of time with each other and have become a support group for each other. They practice twice a week and enjoy spending time at the Community Center. Some come daily to work on their skills.

Currently 102 girls ages 12-18 are involved in the SAJO program, playing on its five volleyball teams. Over 400 have been involved since the program started. During those four years, only three have become pregnant.

SAJO is the only Junior Olympic team with no monthly dues, though they are required to be in school. Their uniforms have been donated and all coaches, such as Mrs. Paula Mitchell, varsity volleyball coach for South Mountain High School, are volunteers.

The SAJO program is not only one of the best in the state, they are also one of the top teams in the country. Many of the girls, still in high school, have been offered scholarships to community colleges. One team member is being recruited by several PAC 10 universities.

Until last year, SAJO was the only inner-city Junior Olympic program in the nation. Because of its success, other communities and cities have started similar programs, using the SAJO model.


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