UNION COUNTY — The Union County Recreation Department currently is in the process of making improvements and upgrades to its current facility and programs.
“The Rec. Department never closed!” said Union County Supervisor Frank Hart, referring to a misconception that the department was no longer open.
Hart said the department was restructured, but it has never closed. In fact, the facility is still open five days a week.
Hart mentioned that the county was faced with tough decisions during the budget crunch, and the decision was made to eliminate two positions within the department — two employees who had already retired through the TERI program. By eliminating the positions and not filling two other positions that were open, the county saved $200,000.
The Union County Recreation Department is now under the same umbrella as Union County Parks and Recreation. When the programs merged, Recreational Program Director Dolton Williams, who formerly worked from Timken Sports Complex, was moved into an office at the Union County Recreation Department. With Williams working at the Rec. Department, along with Tiffany Grady-Hudgins who is currently in a part-time administrative position, the department is still open Monday-Friday.
The most recent upgrades made to the Rec. Department are three walls which have been wrapped with brightly colored sports-themed designs and words of motivation. Williams said the revitalization of the walls — completed by Chad Gault of Renntech Designs — creates a more enjoyable atmosphere, and though it’s a work-in-progress, plans are for the entire facility to either be painted or wrapped.
Other signs of progress include increased participation in the Rec. Department’s football and basketball programs, as numbers have gone up around 30 percent each in both sports.
“I think it’s going to be even better next year,” Williams said.
All helmets and football equipment was upgraded this year.
“We have the best equipment any recreation program offers and the cheapest registration in the state,” Williams said, adding that registration for Spartanburg’s program is more than double the price of Union’s, and participants in Spartanburg have to buy their own equipment.
A draft was also added for both football and basketball this year, to keep the games competitive, eliminating some of the lopsided victories that were an issue when players signed up for the teams for which they wanted to play. Williams said that model does not help any of the players, especially when the goal is to build their confidence and teach hard work.
“One of the biggest things you can teach kids is that hard work pays off,” Williams said. “Usually, teams that work harder are the ones who win.”
There will be 18 teams in the department’s basketball program when it begins next month. Three of those teams will be from Whitmire.
“We will travel there for some of the games this year,” Williams said. “The Rec. Department buses will be up and running.”
Williams said the department is also looking to possibly add more men’s sports.
In addition to programs overseen by the county, the Union County Recreation Department facility is also available for rent. Eight teams rented the building for banquets, and it is also rented often for birthday parties. On Jan. 2, Impressions Outreach will hold a Winter Ball at the Recreation Department, and the Junior Charity League will partner with the department to run the annual Father/Daughter Dance in February.
The department’s baseball and softball programs will be part of Dixie Youth this year, and registration for those programs will take place at the Recreation Department as well as Timken Sports Complex.
Other new programs Williams said the department is considering are spring sports lessons and several camps to be held during the summer.
“All of the coaches have been happy,” Williams said. “They’ve told me they think we are definitely headed in the right direction.”
Hart said he has been impressed with the way Timken Sports Complex employees have handled the extra responsibility.
“We are doing more with less,” Hart said.
Williams said he believes county departments are each working together better than ever before, with more communication and planning.
“The budget cuts have forced our departments to be more efficient — working together and sharing resources,” Hart said.