New rec director hopes to expand programs, age groups

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
The Hillsboro Recreation Commission may not have been sinking in recent months, but it’s direction was anything but certain following the dismissal of its former director in late spring.

But a new captain is on board in the person of Hillsboro native Matt Dalke.

Dalke comes to Hillsboro after a stint at Newton, where he was employed by the parks department as a field maintenance supervisor.

He and wife Jamie have a daughter, Reagan (almost 3), and a son, Tyler (51/2 months).

A 1986 graduate of Hillsboro High School, Dalke earned a bachelor’s degree in recreation from Emporia State University in 1997.

“I came here because I like seeing people recreating and having a good time, giving young people something to do, and providing an outlet for people in their everyday lives,” Dalke said.

“You’re basically providing entertainment and leisure for people, and it’s a very rewarding experience when it all comes together.”

Dalke hopes to quell one of the most common misconceptions about the recreation program- that it’s just for the youth.

“The recreation program is not just for kids,” Dalke said. “Basically, it’s to serve as many people as possible, no matter what age they are.

“One of my long-term goals is to increase non-sport activities and get more seniors involved,” he said. “Whether it be with crafts, art, aerobic fitness or whatever, I want to broaden the scope without hurting the sports sector.”

Dalke said he’s tried to devise a plan to incorporate as many people into the recreation program as possible, and thinks the simplest solution will be the most effective-ask the citizens of Hillsboro what they want in their recreation program.

“I’m more than willing to listen to people’s ideas,” he said. “If there are any people in the community that have ideas, all they have to do is call me at 947-3490, and we can set up a meeting or whatever it takes.”

Dalke said he knows from experience that the Hillsboro area is full of creative people.

“I’m always looking for new ideas,” he said. “If someone comes up with something that will generate a broad interest, I’ll do my best to find a qualified instructor for that program.

“We need to go out and find these people with ideas, then take an aggressive approach to get qualified individuals who are willing to teach others,” he added.

“Usually if you ask someone, they know of someone else who does something well and could teach others.”

Dalke has ideas about expanding the recreation department beyond sports.

“One idea I had was to start an automobile-maintenance class where you can learn how to change a tire, how to check fluids in a car, or just know how to monitor the basic functions of a car,” he said.

“I think that’s an area the recreation program can help community individuals and provide service to a diverse group of people.”

Dalke also has ideas for involving seniors in more programs. For instance, he hopes to start an event resembling the junior-senior prom.

“I’d call it the ‘senior-senior prom,’ where participants dress up in formal clothes, have a nice meal and take pictures, and have decorations,” he said. “We could make a really big deal out of it.

“I think that’s one way to get people involved.”

Dalke said improvements center on not only people and programs, but also facilities. He hopes his experience in field maintenance will be an asset.

“This sports complex is 8 years old and the infields are getting to be in bad shape,” he said “We need to work on fixing some of those problems.

“The city has done a great job out here with the complex-like the playground equipment and the addition of several cement walkways,” he added. “We just need to find a way to spruce the place up a little bit.”

Dalke said golf course superintendent Gary Andrews has done a great job keeping the ship afloat recently.

“It’s unbelievable what one person can get done,” he said, referring to Andrews. “I think he’s a genius at what he does and anything that’s wrong with this place has nothing to do with Gary.”

Another improvement Dalke hopes to address is the addition of trees at the complex.

“One of the main complaints we have, whether it’s from tournament participants or from local league people, is the lack of shade trees,” he said. “I hope we can get trees planted soon.”

One challenge facing Dalke square in the face is money.

“Right now we’re in a budget crunch, so some of the things that need to be done may have to be put on hold until the dollar issues are addressed,” he said.

Also on Dalke’s wish list is improving the ball field at Memorial Park.

“I realize it’s a multi-purpose facility, but we still need to work to make it a better and safer place to play ball,” he said. “I need to spearhead that movement.

“If there are renovations that need to be made, I need to get my hands dirty and help, too,” he added. “I realize the fair uses it, too, and they’re still welcome to use it. But there are some things that need to be done.”

Dalke said he was still in the process of getting the recreation commission’s curriculum established.

“I’ll be meeting with elementary school officials, administrators, counselors, athletic director and principals, and hopefully we’ll all get to sit down and make a broad plan to get a good set of activities,” Dalke said.

“We hope to have that done in a timely manner, so we can give the activity list to the kids and their parents to show them just what will be available and give them time to get signed up.”

Dalke said another item on his agenda is to attempt to draw more tournaments to better use the complex this summer.

“To schedule tournaments, you have to be aggressive,” he said. “You can develop a reputation to either run a good tournament or run a bad tournament.

“If you get the latter reputation, you won’t get many chances.”

Dalke said small towns like Hillsboro have to work a lot harder to establish a good tournament reputation.

“We don’t have the advantage the Fun Valleys do-of having a lot of other things to do in the city” he said. “So we have to be extra friendly, keep the complex clean, and run a smooth tournament.

“We think once we get people to come to Hillsboro, they’ll like it and keep coming back,” he added. “We just need to find a way to get people to come for the first time.”

Dalke said many things in life are uncertain, but one thing that is certain is the commitment he’s made to this job.

“This is a year-round job,” he said. “Some times are busier than others, but there’s something to be done at all times.

“I need to prove myself and get people to trust me,” he said. “I hope people will say that I’m someone who works hard and is open to new ideas and willing to work with the people to make their leisure time more enjoyable.

“This town loves its recreation, and I just want to help them enjoy that.”

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