For Richard--Why I do what I do

By Andy Peal

Everyone has a story about how they got to where they are today; while some may appear to be more profound than others, all are, unequivocally, unique. Each person’s motivations are equally unique and evolve throughout a career. Some are motivated purely by compensation, others by convenience and proximity to home, and some gravitate toward a work schedule that accommodates the needs of one’s family.

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My professional motivations, like those of so many in the parks and recreation field, have always been somewhat altruistic—to make a difference, improve lives, create opportunities, change lifestyles, etc. Like others, I have been invited to graduations or had letters written to me by parents and participants of programs I’ve overseen, stating that I’ve accomplished this goal over the years. These were some of the greatest rewards of an all-too-thankless career path.

As administrators, we implement many of the decisions, policies, programs, and processes because of our own life experiences. Mine have been no different.

Cut From The Team
My little brother Richard was a die-hard San Antonio Spurs fan. David Robinson and Tim Duncan were his absolute idols. Richard lived to be on the hardwood. As a middle-school player, he hadn’t yet matured or hit his growth spurt, so he was just an average player and was cut from the team in seventh grade. As I recall, he never played on an organized team again.

It was about this time that Richard began experimenting with drugs. The one thing he truly loved to do—his outlet—had been taken from him. So his replacements were substances he could introduce into his body that—in my estimation—must have brought on a high and a sensation that compared to the exhilaration he got from playing basketball.

Fast forward to 2016. My brother was a full-blown heroin addict. I got “the call” Thanksgiving weekend from my older brother that Richard had OD’d. He was gone.

Change A Life
What does this have to do with parks and recreation? To some of you, maybe nothing. To me it is very simple:

My department operates our own winter and summer basketball leagues. We offer divisions through the eighth grade, a decision that I made in the second year of the league’s existence, 100 percent with my brother in mind. If I could keep kids playing, keep that “healthy high” in their bodies, maybe even continuing their love of the game and working on their craft so they might make the team the following year, then our efforts would be a success. Every season, after middle-school tryouts, we have a massive influx of registrations—kids who did not make the team—who just love basketball and want to play, an influx of kids just like Richard.

My mom is a retired teacher and I remember hearing her say that if she could change just one kid’s life each day then she had done her job, but she would try to change all of them. I try to change all, but if somewhere I alter the path and help save just one without anyone even knowing—my career will have been a tremendous success.

Be thoughtful in the decisions you make, not just for the immediate path for participants, but for the path you’re helping to set them on. You never know where you can help lead someone.

Andy Peal, CPRP, CPSM, AFO, is the Recreation Director for the Sienna Plantation Residential Association, Inc., in Missouri City, Texas. Reach him at andyp@clubsienna.com.