Taking one for the team (6:23 p.m.)

Published 5:58 pm Tuesday, February 24, 2009

“Go Wildcat” cheers echo from the crowd as Lawson Peoples and his teammates strap on pads and helmets to take the field and prove that hitting hard isn’t just for the bigger boys.

At 6 on weeknights during the fall, the 9-year-old can be found playing safety and running back for Helena Parks and Recreation’s third-grade Wildcats.

Lawson’s father, Ken, said he and his wife, Gayla, wanted Lawson to play sports to keep him healthy and teach him discipline. Lawson is part of four youth sports programs in Helena.

“(My favorite) is football,” Lawson said.

On top of playing both offense and defense in football, Lawson also plays basketball, baseball and soccer with the parks and recreation program, as well as swimming at the YMCA. Lawson, who’s an A honor roll student and whose favorite subject is math, said he wants to continue to play the sports he is playing now when he goes to middle and high school.

Gayla said by participating in youth sports she hopes Lawson becomes well-rounded.

“Our hope is that he is going to be not only a well-rounded athlete, but also a well-rounded kid,” Gayla said.

Brian Hayes, director of Helena Parks and Recreation, said Lawson is a good example of an all-around athlete who is also a positive influence for other kids.

“He is one of my athletes that plays in all my sports,” Hayes said. “He has a great attitude, very athletic and is positive around other kids. They (the Peoples) are good role models for other kids and families around the community.”

Gayla said Lawson has learned a lot through youth sports.

“It has built his self-confidence, helped him learn how to be on a team and deal with defeat,” Gayla said.

She also said his participation has helped the family feel like they are part of the community.

“The nice thing about playing sports in Helena is that it helps build a feeling of community,” Gayla said.