Al “Hondo” Handy had only been with the OceanCity (Md.) Recreation and Parks Department for two months when he was asked to coach the department’s all-star team in a basketball tournament in nearby Salisbury.
At the time, he wasn’t coaching—he had started working at the department midway through the season—but he was refereeing games and impressed everyone with his knowledge and demeanor with the kids. After weeks of practice, Handy was sure his team was ready to compete—until the players arrived in Salisbury.
“When our players walked in and saw this large gymnasium with lots of seating for the spectators, I knew we were in trouble,” recalls Handy, now in his 28th year as the recreation supervisor. “Our facility in OceanCity at that time was really small and had very little seating, and this facility was three times as large.”
The opposing team pressed the entire game—and his team had no answers. He used up all of his timeouts in the first quarter, but to no avail. OceanCity lost 108-8.
“Yes, we lost by 100 points,” Handy says. “But we still shook hands in a show of good sportsmanship.”
As the team piled on the bus for the ride home, there was complete silence. Handy thought about what he could possibly say when one of the kids asked if a team from their town had ever lost by 100 points. When Handy replied that he didn’t think so, the kids started cheering and high-fiving each other about setting the record. And, as kids do, they asked if they could stop at McDonald’s on the trip back.
When the bus returned to OceanCity, parents were shocked to see their kids smiling and in a great mood.
“It was at that point that I learned what recreation is all about,” Handy says. “It’s about participating and having fun—and winning in sports is not all that it is thought to be.”
Here’s what else Handy, also a Certified Youth Sports Administrator, has to say about overseeing a recreation department that provides diverse programming for more than 8,000 kids, ages 6 to 18:
Fred: What’s your favorite youth-sports memory growing up?
Hondo: My favorite sports memory didn’t come until the eleventh grade at Stephen Decatur High School. Our team won the Maryland State Basketball Tournament in College Park as the Terps’ coach Lefty Driesell looked on. The team won the tournament just five years after the school was integrated and that helped bring our towns together. For the first time, blacks and whites were sitting in the stands together and talking. History had been made for our team, school, and the towns.
Fred: Why are you so passionate about sports and youth programming?
Hondo: Following graduation from college, I moved close to Baltimore, to a place called Edgewood, and started substitute teaching. One day, as I was about to enter the gymnasium, I saw a note posted that a youth basketball director was needed at that same school. I thought it would be a great opportunity to meet more people, as I was hoping to get a teaching job the following school year. To make a long story short, I enjoyed directing the youth league. The recreation director asked if I wanted to be the summer camp director at the same school. Later, he asked if I would be the high school basketball league director for the county at night, after camp was over. Needless to say, this is where I got the bug about youth programming, and I have had a fantastic career of changing lives in a positive way.
Fred: Of what are you most proud about your department?
Hondo: I think I am most proud of the growth in our programs. I have seen the department grow from one sports camp to now 57. I have seen the youth basketball program for a boys-and-girls league playing together grow to 16 girls-only teams and 32 boys teams. Our indoor soccer program is also the largest in the area.
Fred: What’s a goal you’d like to see your department accomplish in the next year or so?
Hondo: I would like to initiate the Let’s Talk Sports program not only in my department, but across the state of Maryland and the nation. This great program certifies kids in youth sports. We certify coaches, parents, officials, and administrators, but we don’t certify the kids, and they are the ones playing.
Fred: What’s the best advice you have ever received that has helped you in your job?
Hondo: The best advice I ever received was from my former Director, Tom Perlozzo. He told me to make sure I surround myself with the best employees possible. That was true then and is true now.
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 email@example.com. To join more than 3,000 communities by starting a NAYS chapter, visit www.nays.org or contact Emmy Martinez at firstname.lastname@example.org or (800) 729-2057.