Hennepin County's youth sports grants program isn't just playing the usual games anymore.

The program -- now in its fourth year of helping local governments fund sports facilities and equipment with proceeds from the county's ballpark tax -- branched out in last week's small grants round to include ski-jump fencing, boat motors for a sailing school, rowing oars, a wrestling mat and even rucking dummies for a rugby club.

Funding also went for adaptive equipment to help kids with disabilities go cross-country skiing and ride mountain bikes, said Steve Olson, who oversees the selection process as chief operating officer of the Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission. The county contracts with the sports commission to administer the program.

"We're funding now a spectrum of 16 different activities, as opposed to 10 before," Olson said. He added that the program is still somewhat short on funding for sports played by girls, and he said they hope to draw more applications from gymnastics and softball groups.

The county board each year approves $2 million in grants through the program, which is funded with revenue from the county's 0.15 percent sales tax levied to pay for Target Field.

Most of that money, $1.75 million, goes to large grants to build or renovate facilities; a total of $250,000 is disbursed twice a year in smaller amounts for equipment needed to make facilities playable.

Facility grants can run as high as $325,000. The equipment grants, which run up to $10,000, were added last year.

"It's one thing to have the field, it's one thing to have volunteers, but if there's not the equipment -- a pitching machine or blocking dummies or any of the things that are on here -- it's awfully tough to run a successful program," County Board Chair Mike Opat said last week.

Commissioners approved 24 grants totaling $144,400, out of 40 applications received. There were 14 recipients in all, including nine cities, three school districts and two park districts.

The next round of funding will begin this fall for facility and equipment grants. Applications will be due in October, for awards to be made in December.

Kevin Duchschere • 612-673-4455