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Delivering Quality Programs

When it comes to providing quality sports programs, Derrick Stanton has a long and impressive track record of making it happen.

And he’s loved every minute of it along the way.

“One thing that has been consistent with my involvement in sports and recreation is that it has never felt like work,” says Stanton, the recreation director for the city of Newburgh in New York. “Whether it was a paid or volunteer position, I would spend countless hours working on programs or activities because it truly brought me joy.”

Stanton has certainly infused plenty of joy into the lives of countless youngsters at every stop he has made.

After securing a degree in Sports Management, he went into the U.S. Army, which began a whirlwind of experiences: He coached a local high school team in Texas during the AAU season; while at West Point, he taught in the Department of Physical Education; he established a summer basketball league; he served as a part-time athletic director for a Boys & Girls Club; and eventually, he took his current position at the city of Newburgh.

“No matter where I was stationed, I always looked for ways to support our local youth programs as a volunteer,” he says.

Here’s what Stanton had to say about the rewards and challenges of running sports programs for kids:

Fred: How have your own youth-sports experiences affected how you approach your job today?

Derrick: Like most recreation leagues, our basketball program relied on volunteer coaches. Not only were they inexperienced, but they were also untrained. I saw kids regularly embarrassed and verbally abused by coaches. That is one reason why my department ensures that all of our coaches are certified through the National Alliance for Youth Sports. It is the key to making our sports programs a great experience for players.

Fred: If you were talking to a room full of first-year recreation professionals, what would be three tips you would share with them?

Derrick: Become part of your community, develop a thick skin, and always remember that this is a service profession. Your personal satisfaction should never come before the satisfaction of those you serve. 

Fred: Whom do you most admire?

Derrick: My parents were my heroes growing up. There were two main things my parents taught me as a child that have stuck with me to this day. The first is to never quit. You can’t let one bad day knock you off your course. Some days you will make great strides, some days you will make small ones, and some days you might feel like you have been walking in place. The second thing is selfless service. This basically means your hard work is not always going to benefit you personally. Your efforts might help a child get into college, or in the case of a recreation professional, your hard work might ensure that a child has a really good time in a program. Personal gain should never affect how hard you work.  

Fred: What would you like to see more of in your programs?

Derrick: Diversity. We have a large Hispanic and African-American community, so the demand is for soccer and basketball. However, I think exposure to a wider variety of programs will lead to greater participation. Not everyone is going to be a great basketball or soccer player, so it’s important to provide more options. Our goal is physical activity as a lifetime endeavor. People have to find physical activities they enjoy and can make a regular part of their lives. The key to achieving this goal is having a diverse program.

Fred: What are you most proud of about your program?

Derrick: My staff. I have a department of three people, serving a city of over 30,000, but we get it done. We all have the same focus and want nothing but the best for our community.

Fred: What was your favorite sport growing up? 

Derrick: Basketball. I grew up in the inner city of Philadelphia with a basketball court around every corner. It was also a time when the 76ers won the NBA Championship with Dr. J and Moses Malone, so my friends and I spent every waking moment playing basketball. In the summers, the playground was the focal point of the community. We didn’t have much, but playing well in a summer-league game could really make you “somebody” in the neighborhood. So we worked very hard on our games. As a result, we stayed out of trouble, and most of us played some level of college basketball.   

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 fengh@nays.org. To join more than 3,000 communities by starting a NAYS chapter, visit www.nays.org or contact Emmy Martinez at emartinez@nays.org or (800) 729-2057.  

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