Recreation Director Fits In More Programs To Make Folks Fitter

By: Ed Maroney

Topics: Recreation

Recreation Director Alan Harrison keeps things moving at his weekly men's recreation class at the senior center.  ED MARONEY PHOTO

ORLEANS Eleven men are stretching their limbs, and maybe their lifespans, at the senior center. The town's recreation director, Alan Harrison, is calling out directions and encouragement.

“Excellent,” he says. To which one man responds, “Glad you think so.”

It's another easygoing session of the adult men's fitness class, one of several new offerings provided by Harrison.

“We had nothing for the seniors that was for exercise, strengthening,” said Hank Schumacher. “I want to be able to walk to the beach and kick a soccer ball with the kids. Alan makes it fun. The key is it's not a chore. He has lots of good toys.”

The main reason he attends, Schumacher said, is to work on balance: “I don't want to fall. (Harrison's) able to keep me from falling. He deserves a raise.”

The budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 does include an increase in hours for Harrison. Next month, in an effort to expand programming, town meeting will be asked to institute fees for recreation offerings, most of which are free now.

“It all depends on what voters want at town meeting,” Harrison said in an interview last week. “I'm not spending my time as recreation director promoting fees. It's not my place to do so. My place is to represent it to the board of selectmen, which we did.” The board of selectmen and the finance committee are unanimous in their support for the initiative, which they see as providing revenue to increase recreation opportunities. A protocol would be in place to assist anyone facing a financial hardship.

Although he's not campaigning for the fees, Harrison said he's ready “to answer any questions people have.” The fees were recommended after reviewing practices in neighboring towns, all of which have registration fees. “They have a revolving fund account,” he said of other communities. “They can buy equipment, pay for a field trip, pay for a trainer.”

Harrison has firsthand knowledge of how other towns run their departments. He was Brewster's first recreation director, back in the 1980s, then took the same job in Harwich. After that, he taught and held an athletic administration post at MassBay Community College in Wellesley before deciding to move back to the Cape, where he worked at a fitness club in Mashpee.

He saw the Orleans job, which he started about a year and a half ago, as “an opportunity to work with diverse ages and provide a variety of programming. We focused on trying to connect with the Council on Aging and got into some adult fitness programming,” including Tai Chi and Burdenko fitness training classes.

The department's recreation options for children, such as soccer and basketball, have continued. “Right now, we're getting a girls softball program going,” Harrison said. There will be teams in grades 2 to 3 and 4 to 6, with the former playing Monday nights and the latter on Tuesday and Thursday nights. He's looking at ways to grow summer recreation and swimming instruction offerings and gives credit to “a great summer staff” of instructors.

Another idea is training and conditioning classes for student athletes. Harrison is planning a two-day workshop for Little League and middle school pitchers on fundamental skills and mechanics. This summer he's planning a middle school sports conditioning program for students who want to work on “improving speed, agility, strength and sport mechanics” as they prepare to transition to playing in high school. Another two-day workshop will focus on weight training and stretching for middle school athletes.

As for adults, “I've heard the cry for pickleball,” Harrison said. “It's very popular and growing. Last fall, we did some workshops and we'll do them again this spring” on May 22 and June 5. These will be free sessions on the fundamentals of the game. The town has just one court lined for pickleball but Harrison wants to set up more. “When you play tennis on a tennis court, four people is the max,” he said. “In that same space, you could have 16 people playing pickleball.”

The roster of spring recreational classes also includes a weekly session of Burdenko fitness training from noon to 1 p.m. Fridays in the community building at 44 Main St. Harrison said he's open to hearing other ideas for recreation offerings.

Back at the senior center, Harrison is putting his class through its paces, mixing instruction with baseball talk. “Anybody disappointed with the Red Sox start?” he asks. “No,” say several die-hard fans. “Well, I'm not,” says Harrison, a Dodgers fan who's still recovering from watching the Sox celebrate their World Series victory in Los Angeles.

To register for recreation department programs, call 508-240-3790, ext. 3140.