US Play Coalition Awards and Grants Help Expand the Play Movement

The US Play Coalition recognized exceptional researchers, practitioners and play projects at its 10th Anniversary Conference on the Value of Play, held at Clemson University between March 31 and April 3, 2019.

Every year the US Play Coalition, a national organization headquartered at Clemson University, recognizes play researchers and practitioners who have made significant contributions to the knowledge of play, and practitioners and projects that help further play in their communities and beyond.

Play is important for people of all ages to be physically active, mentally alert, creative, and socially connected. Over the past decade, the US Play Coalition has been proud to have given almost $60,000 in action and research grants to a variety of projects. These investments have helped foster the continued growth of both a body of knowledge and community-focused play experiences that benefit thousands of people of all ages and abilities.

2019 Joe L. Frost Award for Distinguished Research Winner – Lynn A. Barnett, Ph.D.
The US Play Coalition recognizes a play researcher each year for exceptional research in the field of play.  The award honors its namesake, Joe L. Frost, the contemporary father of play advocacy. Frost was influential in the creation of the U.S. Play Coalition, serving as a steering committee member since the organization’s beginning in 2009.

Lynn A. Barnett, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Recreation, Sport & Tourism at the University of Illinois is the 2019 Joe L. Frost Award for Distinguished Research recipient. Dr Barnett is also a Fellow in the Academy of Leisure Sciences.

Dr. Barnett has had a long and sustained record of contributions to the study of play throughout her career, which started in the 1970s. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications including books, scholarly journals, technical reports, and papers at professional meetings. In addition to her own scholarship, she has contributed to the study of play through activities such as serving on the editorial board of several journals, including Play Theory and Research, Play and Culture, and Play Research International. She has also taught multiple courses (at both the graduate and undergraduate level) related to play, including Play Across the Lifespan, Play Theories and Their Implications, Play and Leisure, and Humor as Play.

2019 Youth Learning Institute’s Youth Development Practitioner Award Winner – Flo Brett
Flo Brett was recognized by the U.S. Play Coalition and Clemson University’s Youth Learning Institute for outstanding performance in the creation and implementation of youth development programs or services.

Brett founded the Effective Leadership Academy (in Warrensville Heights, OH) in 2008, after emigrating to the United States. The Academy and its 135 partners (and counting) has helped more than 20,000 students learn “real world” skills they need to be successful after they graduate. The program works directly with young people and their teachers to help them learn the skills they need to face adult life responsibly, ethically, and competently. Brett has also designed and facilitated professional development opportunities for teachers and youth workers, helping them to support their students’ holistic development in and out of the classroom. She shares best practices with other youth practitioners and community leaders to create a collaborative information and knowledge sharing network.

2019 Action Grant Winners

Three $1,000 action grants are providing needed funding for projects that are facilitating play in specific communities and across the country.

Courtney Gardner and Ben Dalbey with Free for All Baltimore received an Action Grant to help organize a Free for All Community Day. The event will make families aware of the opportunities for play, demonstrate the value of play activities to community leaders, and help engage the community in creating places for children and youth to play in Baltimore.

Ahren Hoffman, Jean Bailey and Kimberly Mosely with the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association are creating a Spanish version of the Brilliant Benefits of Toys Guide, which explores how toys are perhaps the fastest and most fun way for a child to reach important milestones through physical, cognitive, communicative, social/emotional and sensory play experiences. The guide, which is already available in English, will be shared both digitally and in print.


Shannon Keleher, Ph.D., Director of Parks and Recreation for the City of Frisco, for the PlayFrisco! project, which will provide training for area teachers and parks and recreation employees, so they are better equipped to spread the message of the importance of play.

2019 Research Seed Grant Award Winner
Janet Loebach, Ph.D., received this year’s $3,000 Research Seed Grant Award for her project, “Development of a research-based audit tool for assessing the quality and efficacy of outdoor play environments.”

Loebach is developing a research-informed outdoor playspace audit tool to assess several different outdoor and natural play spaces, including in public parks and recreation facilities, schools or childcare facilities, and educational facilities such as museums or nature learning centers.

The assessment tool and a user guide could be used by designers, facility managers and administrators, school and child care facility staff, parks planners and managers, and even community groups, to assess or guide the development of natural, outdoor playspaces. It could also be used by researchers to evaluate play opportunities, or complement other tools, such as behavior mapping or staff walkalong interviews.

The U.S. Play Coalition
The U.S. Play Coalition is an international network of individuals and organizations that promotes the value of play throughout life. Formed in 2009, the coalition is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. The coalition is housed in Clemson University’s Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management department, part of the College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences.