Tuesday, November 5, 2013

3 ways a former Recreation Director changed Ann Arbor forever

Guest blogger Larry Dishman, Coordinator of Team Sports

My first encounter with Chuck Oxley, the legendary Ann Arbor Recreation Director of the 1960s and 70s, was the result of me getting run over by a disgruntled baseball player. In the summer of 1964, I was a rising senior at St. Thomas High School. It was my third summer umpiring adult baseball games for the Ann Arbor Recreation Department, a forerunner of Rec&Ed. Back then we would officiate games decked out in black suits over white button down shirts, with a matching tie and an umpire cap. Our pay: $3.00 for a 3-hour game.

One muggy summer night at Veterans Memorial Park, a row erupted over the accuracy of my strike zone. The third baseman from one of the teams thought he had a better view of the strike zone from the hot corner than I did from behind the plate. After I gave him three or four warnings for disparaging language, I ejected him from the game. The player became even more furious, charging over and knocking me down. The base umpire, who happened to be a college football player, jumped in right away and ushered the player off the field. 

When order was restored, I got up, brushed myself off and forfeited the game to the opposing team. The next day Chuck Oxley, who had been the Director of Recreation for about a year, phoned me at home. He introduced himself, asked how I was, and urged me to tell him what happened at the ballpark the night before. After hearing my story, he said he was not only going to suspend the ball player who charged me but was going to take legal action against him as well. And he did.

Over the next decade or so, I came to understand that this was just one example of how Chuck was a man of his word. He was also an innovator who was never afraid to try something that hadn't been done before. Last week would have been Chuck's 97th birthday. As I reflect on Chuck as a leader in this community, three of his accomplishments stand out as making a permanent difference in Ann Arbor:

1. Organizing the original University of Michigan Athletics Department Sports Clinic (along with Bo Schembechler, Johnny Orr, and Moby Benedict). This sports clinic was the precursor to the present day sports camps run by the University of Michigan.

2. Advocating for combined city/schools recreation programs. Chuck often stated that it's more efficient to use both city-owned and school-owned facilities for recreation programs rather than having each agency run their own programs in their own separate facilities. This model continues today, with Rec&Ed still offering a number of its programs (e.g., cultural arts, softball/baseball, soccer) in/on both city-owned and school-owned facilities.

3. Transforming a former racetrack into the Ann Arbor Senior Center. Armed with a vision for a dedicated place where seniors could enjoy recreational activities and his legendary enthusiasm, Chuck rallied volunteers to renovate the former racetrack building located at Burns Park. Over 40 years later the City of Ann Arbor still offers a wealth of programs and special events at the center.

Chuck served the Ann Arbor community as Director of the Ann Arbor Recreation Department from 1963 to 1978. He hired me as the first, and so far only, Coordinator of Team Sports back in 1976. By hiring staff such as myself, he hoped to mightily expand recreation fee-based program offerings for the people of Ann Arbor without additional general fund subsidies. Although it was one of his last recreation programming ideas, it was just another one his innovations that has worked to this day. To cap off his long career, Chuck was inducted in the Michigan Recreation and Parks Association Hall of Fame in 2007. 

Our many team sports programs live on today. Find out more at aareced.com.

Larry Dishman has worked for the AAPS Community Education & Recreation Department in many capacities since 1961. Known around town simply as “Dish,” over the years he has worked with countless coaches, players and district staff as an umpire, district coordinator of athletics, and Rec&Ed team sports coordinator. He also enjoys serving as the coordinator of Rec&Ed’s Hikone – Ann Arbor Middle School Exchange Program.

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1 comment:

  1. I always appreciate hearing from the perspective of those who have been around a while. Kudos to "Dish" on such a long and rewarding career!