Take a good long last look before school starts as you drive by Lowcountry public playgrounds, dugouts and soccer goals.

Most of the facilities are just dandy, but a lot of important little things are missing: Kids.

Empty fields.

Empty streets.

What happened to our love for healthy, unsupervised athletic activity?

It went inside with video games and fear.

Remember when we were kids? Ah, yes, those endless days of football, baseball, basketball -- whatever the season. Choosing up sides. No coach. Shirts and skins. No camps. Arguments solved without an umpire. No overly organized "programs" run by intrusive adults.

But more single parents, fewer familiar neighbors and fresh molestation news keep too many children in front of TVs for extended periods.

Like most of the summer.

Why bring this up now?

Because given time to digest the easy solution to a simple math problem -- lots of available space plus lots of parents looking for something inexpensive for their inactive kids to do -- maybe the recreation departments and school districts of the Lowcountry can rise to the challenge and help interested parents make good things happen by summer 2011.

SMART plan

The Sandlot Motivated Active Recess Time (SMART) plan works this way:

--Participants: Any eager kid, regardless of talent.

--Space: Outdoor recreation department facilities and school playgrounds are very available from 9-5 in the summer and, often, right after school. The same fields after 5 are crammed with organized practices and games involving local leagues or travel teams.

--Sports: Baseball, softball, flag football, soccer, Ultimate Frisbee, whatever the kids decide within the field dimensions. Water balloon fights work well, too.

--Time: Three-hour morning and afternoon sessions in the summer, afternoons during the school year.

--Staff: Volunteer stay-at-home moms (and available dads) cleared with criminal background checks and with schedules monitored by rec department or school officials, depending on the site. Maybe a rec department intern or two. The idea is to mostly make sure kids don't escape or kill each other but otherwise let them make leadership decisions they otherwise don't get to make these days.

--Money: After the parent committee's Used Equipment Drive and donation of water coolers and sports drinks, the roughly estimated total cost per participant will be close to free.

"Ham" Porter

Of course, if kids were allowed to vote, the SMART plan would have been implemented years ago.

Research confirms kids like impromptu fun with other kids.

Observe that even carefully coached players on "elite" teams seem to get the most joy from down-time interaction on and off the field.

Hey, mom and dad. Ask your child if she or he would be interested in meeting up with friends and potential friends down at the nearby field.

If "yes" contact a school or recreation department and get the balls rolling.

Be persistent. The joy of childhood is at stake.

"Sandlot" is a wonderful movie about Benny "The Jet" Rodriguez, "Ham" Porter, Scotty Smalls and other kids enjoying a long summer playing unorganized, unsupervised games all day and into the night. Hopefully, those days can almost return.

Reach Gene Sapakoff at gsapakoff@postandcourier.com.