That’s really the key to running a successful program; finding the quality people that enjoy their job, the kids and the adults.-- Garet Fitzpatrick
Great Bend Recreation Activity Center Director Garet Fitzpatrick does have an office there at 2715 18th St. He admits, however, he’d much rather spend time doing than sitting, especially outside.
“How can you sit in front of a screen when it’s such a nice day?” he said. As director of enrichment for the GBRC, even a chance to visit with parents of children playing on the equipment in the Activity Center’s “My Backyard” will get him outdoors.
The winter schedule has moved on to spring, and the summer Rec guide is due out the last week of this month.
Every season, every day, there’s something to do, inside or out.
“We offer classes from early morning, mid-morning, afternoons, evenings and nights,” he noted.
Fitzpatrick’s road to recreation began with baseball. Raised on a ranch in Chase County in Nebraska and graduating from Imperial High School in 1988, baseball brought him to Garden City Community College as a pitcher.
After GCCC, he transferred to Fort Hays State University to play baseball there. Hampered by an injury to his pitching arm while in Garden City, he realized that a career in professional baseball was not in reach.
“My best pitch was any strike,” he noted. “I figured out real quick that I wasn’t going to be a pro baseball player. At that point, I wanted to go into teaching and coaching.”
After his tour with the Fort Hays State Tigers was over, however, he found himself rethinking his prospects.
“I started looking for something to do and I got involved with the rec center in hays, part-time,” he said. “My first job there was teaching after-school basketball classes at a couple elementary schools. It kind of snowballed from there.”
Soon after, the Hays Rec administration had decided to develop a new position for enrichment to add to their programming, with a wide variety of other classes.
“At that time, they really had nothing as far as enrichment, so I started the program basically from scratch,” Fitzpatrick said. “It was a win-win situation; whatever I did was good.
“I then realized that what I was doing was fun, I liked it. I was still meeting and working with people, it was still community involvement and it changes all the time. I decided it wasn’t a bad gig.” He was a full-time employee there for 12 years.
Concurrently, he met his wife Jennifer while at FHSU, and they were married in 1997. Jennifer landed a job at USD 495 in Larned prior to the wedding. The couple then moved to Rush Center, with Jennifer traveling to Larned and Garet back to Hays. “It was a good split, we were fortunate to find a nice house there.”
They have two boys: Hunter, now 23, just earned his FHSU degree in elementary education last fall and Easton is a senior at Larned High School.
“Once the boys started school, we knew that the drive for the wife and kids wasn’t going to work out so we moved to Larned,” Fitzpatrick said.
Coincidentally, a position with Great Bend Recreation opened up with the promotion of Diann Henderson to executive director. Fitzpatrick secured the job as program coordinator.
The GB groove
In moving from the Hays Rec to Great Bend Rec Center, Fitzpatrick experienced a reversal in his management philosophy.
“I went from a program that I had developed myself, to a program that Diann developed over the years that was very well-established,” he said. “There was a little pressure on me, actually, I had a lot to live up to at Great Bend.”
Fitzpatrick went through training with Chris Umphres, both starting the same day. “He was a baseball nut as I am, so we really got along pretty well.”
The challenge at that point was to uphold the standard that Henderson had set, he said. “My focus was to make that position grow and add my personal touches to different programs,” Fitzpatrick noted.
Every day, all the time
While some community recreation programs are considered a summertime venture, Great Bend Recreation has got something going on all the time, for all ages. “We’re busy all the time,” Fitzpatrick said. “A lot of people think of rec as a sports program, but we offer a wide range of activities for all ages.”
The enrichment programs add a completely different range of activities. That’s when leadership benefits by the recruitment of quality staff, Fitzpatrick said. “We’ve got some outstanding instructors, some of them have been working since before I was even here. That’s really the key to running a successful program, is finding the quality people that enjoy their job, the kids and the adults. We have a lot of ‘em,” he noted.
“One person can’t do this job. You need support from your colleagues and your staff.
“You’re always looking for new programs,” he said. “We go to state and national conferences. You go there wide-eyed and so you can figure out how to bring those things back to fit your system and your budget. Then you have to find the people that can and would want to teach them. But it is fun to incorporate new things for people to try.”
“The challenge now is technology,” he said. “That’s changing the things that we all do. It’s figuring out how technology will help us do our jobs and help expand our programming.”
Recreation is more than sports and it’s more than activities, he said. “You just have to open your mind to all the things it can be.”
Community Connections is a regular feature of the Great Bend Tribune, showcasing people who live in the Golden Belt. We welcome readers to submit names of individuals who are active in the community that they would like to see featured in a future story. Send suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org and explain their “community connections.”