Covington to take over rec sports programs

People have told Scott Thomas lately that he looks tired.

The reason behind the Covington Parks and Recreation director’s apparent fatigue is simple. Well, maybe not simple. He is prepping two create new positions in the department, updating registration software and synchronizing three divisions into one comprehensive unit — all, ideally, in time for the summer and fall sports seasons.

“People just want to click a button and play,” Thomas said. “We’re going to do all these things behind the scenes to make sure it’s easy for people to sign up and have fun.”

The city of Covington is in the process of assimilating the role of sports programming king, sliding into the position previously handled by Covington Sports athletic program, a nonprofit organization that is folding after about seven years.

Covington Sports informed the city last fall of funding issues it faced, giving the City Council time to prepare and discuss whether it wanted to assume the recreational sports role.

The city agreed to add the programming to its recreation division during its council retreat in January. The net cost estimate for the undertaking in 2015 is between $80,000-$120,000, with $32,000 in startup fees. Thomas said that money comes from the general budget.

Thomas said he often hears from the community that there is not enough for kids to do in Covington and losing this program would have been devastating.

“People will go to great lengths to make sure kids have things to do,” Thomas said. “If it were a profit generating activity a business would do it and then we wouldn’t have to.”

Kent Little League and Kent Youth Soccer Association, the city’s other two sports organizations, are more narrowly focused and oriented towards competitive play. The city plans to replicate Covington Community Sports’ goal of play for the sake of fun.

“It’s an all-comers approach,” Thomas said.

Keeping rec sports local helps “build community on the sidelines,” Thomas said. But there’s also another potential benefit, as the city plans to meld the aquatics, recreation and parks divisions to provide more comprehensive registration opportunities. In other words, with one phone call families can sign up for various aquatic and recreational options for all ages.

Thomas expects the program to evolve in the coming years, with potential additions of sports such as cross country running and dodgeball.

“But that will take a few years to ramp up,” Thomas said. “We don’t want to bite off more than we can chew in the first year.”

Thomas said the city will charge comparable sign up fees to Covington Sports’ current prices and will look for sponsorships to help offset costs. The city will continue to primarily focus on younger kids: from toddlers to early teenagers.

The city is hoping for an easy transition, and is committed to starting youth sports in the fall with soccer and flag football. Thomas is still determining whether the city will be ready to provide adult softball in the summer. Soccer will continue to be the most readily available youth sport, with a spring and fall league, along with a week-long summer camp.

Thomas believes that most of the public already assumes the city handles recreational sports and, thus, won’t notice much of a difference.

“People will probably think it’s just a name change or a different phone number,” he said.

Jason Gaver has a 6-year-old son, Zack, who has enjoyed two seasons of recreational sports and is currently in the soccer league. Gaver said he is always skeptical when the city or state takes over a program.

“But it seems like it would be pretty hard to screw up kids sports, so we’ll see,” he said.

Covington Sports Athletic Director Erick Schurg said the organization didn’t have enough of a buffer to offset the high turnover of staff who dealt with marketing and grants. The lack of funding and lower registration numbers forced a big picture reality that the organization would likely be unable to continue past the upcoming spring soccer season.

“I wasn’t even going to look past spring baseball and tee ball, and even that was a 50-50 shot at best,” he said. “It’s definitely a positive thing for the city to be taking over.”

Schurg expects the transition to go smoothly and said he “definitely” plans to apply for one of the two new full-time positions created by the merger, which will pay around $50,000 per year.

“Going from a nonprofit organization to city makes more sense financially and stability-wise,” he said. “With a nonprofit working off of grants and donations, a lot of times that’s hit or miss.”

By taking on this role, the Parks and Recreation Department will need to push a few other goals back. That includes setting up community activities, such as movies in the park, and developing an advisory committee that would identify future priorities and funding for parks, recreation and facilities.

“It’s a trade off,” Thomas said. “We are putting that off because this is more pressing.”

Thomas said it’s exciting that the city can do more than just “hold the ground” financially — able to again fund services that the community wants.

“Two years ago we maybe couldn’t have been able to take this on,” Thomas said.


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