Destined To Serve
By Fred Engh
It seems Jerome Krieger was destined for a career in parks and recreation. Growing up across the street from a recreation center in St. Paul, Minn., “[It] was my home away from home,” he says.
“I remember all of the great professionals that managed the center and thought how great it would be to have that job one day,” Krieger recalls. “My dream came true, and I was honored to be the director of the NorthDaleRecreationCenter in St. Paul, that I grew up at for a 4-year period.”
These days, Krieger is the Program Supervisor for adult and youth athletics for the city of Blaine Parks and Recreation, a position he has held for 6 years. Prior to landing in Blaine, located north of the Twin Cities, he spent 19 years working for the city of St. Paul.
Through all of the years, all of the programs, and all of the kids, Krieger has enjoyed the special connections that have been forged. “The one thing that always puts a smile on my face,” he says, “is when I see people or families from the recreation centers that I used to work at, and they all say the same thing: ‘Jerome, we sure do miss you and wish you were back.’ I know that I made a difference to them, and they appreciated it.”
Here’s what else Krieger had to say about providing sports programming for kids ranging from 3 through high school:
Fred: What is the best idea your department has come up with since you have been there?
Jerome: Five years ago, I introduced a program called Parent/Child T-Ball for 3- and 4-year olds in Blaine that I used in St. Paul. In the first two years, I had about 45 kids and their parents in the program. In the third and fourth years, I had about 80 kids and their parents. This year, I had eight teams with 104 kids and their parents, and I had to turn kids away because of lack of space at the park. The parents play next to their child and run the bases with the player after the child hits. Parents also play in the field with the child and indicate where to throw the ball. It is a very popular program.
Fred: What is the worst day on the job you have ever had?
Jerome: About 11 years ago, I was working at a recreation center in St. Paul. One of the staff told me about a fight happening on the playground and the need for me to get out there. I ran outside and saw two girls grabbing each other’s hair and throwing punches. I ran toward them to try to get them to stop. On my way down the path, a man jumped out from behind the slide, grabbed me around the neck, and told me to mind my own business. He was the father of one of the girls, and he had been watching her fight. I ran inside the building and called the police. I later had pictures taken of my neck where the father had assaulted me.
Fred: Why are you so passionate about sports and youth programming?
Jerome: There are two things that have influenced my decision to stay active in this profession. First, when I was 6 years old, I was diagnosed with Type 1 juvenile diabetes. My doctor told me to stay active in athletics and I would be as healthy as any other normal person. I have continued to do that and still play in men’s hockey leagues. Second, growing up across the street from a recreation center had a big influence on my decision to join this profession.
Fred: How does your department deal with kids wanting to play up in older age groups?
Jerome: I never want to hold a kid back from excelling in a sport, but when I do get a request from a parent, I have a conversation in order to see why the child should play up. Before approving or denying the request, I try to make sure the parent and child know what to expect in playing at the next level.
Fred: What’s better for kids: trophies for only the best teams, or participation trophies for everyone?
Jerome: I think participation trophies are good for kids under the age of 8, but after that a trophy needs to be earned. The preschool kids love the medals and other rewards they get, but as the kids get older, those things lose their luster unless they are earned. The other problem with giving trophies to everyone is that organizations sometimes don’t have enough money in their budgets to cover the costs.
Fred Engh is founder and CEO of the National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS) in West Palm Beach, Fla. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. To join more than 3,000 communities by starting a NAYS chapter, visit www.nays.org or contact Emmy Martinez at email@example.com or (800) 729-2057.