There is nothing that brings people and communities together quite like sports. Gary Flather, 47, president of the Southwestern Youth Association, has been dedicated to bringing sports to children for years.
Not only is Flather the president of SYA but he works as a manager at the Merrifield Post Office. He is also a member of the George Mason Patriot Club and volunteers at Westfield High School.
THIS YEAR, he is being honored as Lord Fairfax for his commitment and contributions to the community.
Flather is a lifelong resident of Fairfax County. He was born and raised in Falls Church, graduated from George Mason University with a degree in business management and met his wife Susan in Arlington.
The couple has four children: Rob, 19, Daniel, 17, Jennifer, 15, and Brad, 11. Rob attends Radford College, Daniel and Jennifer attend Westfield High, and Brad goes to Cub Run Elementary. Susan works at Window Decor in Fairfax as an office manager.
Flather began his tenure as SYA president a few years ago, and he inherited a large organization and an even larger project called Fields of Dreams from the former president, George Chernesky.
FLATHER CREDITS Chernesky with setting up and helping push the Fields of Dreams program, which is a project that will build athletic fields and recreation facilities for children along Bull Run Post Office Road in Centreville.
“He did the hard work and we’re just putting the finishing touches on that. We will be ready for the fall,” said Flather. “Once we open the field we’re going to be looking for corporate sponsorship, or assistance of any kind.”
But to Flather a lot of the credit for the program and his recognition as Lord Fairfax goes to SYA and all the people who volunteer their time.
“I don’t really see this as recognition for me but for our entire program and everything everyone has done to get the program to where it is today,” said Flather.
SYA CURRENTLY offers 13 different sports for children, including softball and cheerleading. It recently added field hockey and track, because according to Sully District Supervisor Michael Frey (R-Sully) “not all children like to play baseball.”
“The growth in non-traditional sports has been remarkable,” said Frey.
It follows that children like to play sports of all kinds, since 14,000 children participated in SYA programs last year.
“It’s not just a reflection of the size of SYA but of the commitment of Gary and the board members. The more you can get kids involved, the better the community,” said Frey.
Flather’s first experience with SYA was when his father, Paul, ran the Little League baseball program. Later Flather followed his father and became the coach of his son’s T-ball team. He’s been with SYA ever since.
Brian Hunter, the treasurer for SYA, enjoys working with Flather and what he sees as great people skills.
"It’s tremendous. He’s a great person to be in that position. He is a mediator and a conciliator to deal with all the varied interested in the organization,” said Hunt.
HUNT IS IMPRESSED not only with Flather’s style of leadership, but with the amount of time he dedicates to the organization.
“I’m amazed at the level of involvement he’s in. I don’t know where he finds the time,” said Hunt. “It’s almost like a full-time job.”
There is no doubt to Hunt that Flather deserves the honor of the Lord Fairfax award.
“I think it’s a very deserved award. I know how much time he puts into this organization,” said Hunt, explaining that a lot of time is spent in meetings with other organizations. “Not to mention all of the preparation, which requires a tremendous amount of time.”
But for Flather, there will always be something to do.
“It’s really just a continual push to work with all these programs and provide activities for kids,” said Flather. He noted that there are thousands of adult volunteers along with the children, and the community contributes a lot to the organization.
“Sports brings people together. It really does,” said Flather.