WR rec chief forms group to chart course

WARNER ROBINS — A tennis player. A local pastor. A college senior. A volunteer coach.

Warner Robins Recreation Department Director James Dodson said he hand-picked a diverse group of 11 people from various walks of life in Warner Robins recreation to help best determine what moves his department should be making as it moves forward.

“For a city this size, our staff is considered to be small considering the programming we offer,” Dodson said. “We’re looking for some input (from the board) on how we can better provide services to the citizens in the way of programming and facilities.”

Everyone on the board, which must be approved by City Council to become official, is in some way associated with recreation for the city. Dodson’s list includes former parks and recreation leader Claude Lewis, Houston County Board of Education member Toby Hill and college senior — and former recreation participant — Chris LeShoure, among others. Charlie Johnson, a local tennis player and former Warner Robins Tennis Association president, said he wants to share his knowledge of that sport and how the city can boost revenue through upgraded facilities.

“Tennis brings $6 million a year to Macon from tournaments,” said Johnson, a Kathleen resident. “We’re trying to get a nice facility for tennis. People move to Macon because the tennis facilities aren’t as good here. We want to change that.”

Also among the proposed board members is Pastor Johnny Ellison of Green Acres Baptist Church.

Ellison graduated from Georgia Southern University with a degree in public recreation.

“You get a lot of different perspectives (with a board like this),” Ellison said. “Recreation is not just athletics or passive recreation like walking. It’s facilities, picnic areas, safety issues. It’s all those things. This brings to bear ideas from a variety of citizens to support the recreation department leaders.”

Ellison said he worked in recreation after college. Now, as the father to children ages 16, 12 and 5 — and leader to a congregation of all ages — he feels it is still necessary that he be involved in the discussion.

“I bring a bit of a variety of perspectives,” he said. “But I move into the experiential and practical, too.”

Warner Robins’ recreation department is manned by 17 full-time staffers who preside over dozens of facilities across the city. Dodson said while some cities of a similar size contract with other companies to run their programs, the city runs its own basketball, baseball, softball, cheerleading, football and track and field youth programs.

“The programs keep the youth active,” he said. “We’re hearing a lot now about obesity. And this is certainly one of the ways we can combat obesity, It helps keep their minds occupied and helps to not get them into so much mischief.

“It also teaches them certain aspects about life, like life skills, teamwork, the importance of learning fundamentals and gives them an opportunity to experience the highs and lows of winning and losing.”

To contact writer Marlon A. Walker, call 256-9685.