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All in for recreation

It’s official: Recreation will be a city operation in Marion beginning Jan. 1. The school board effectively punted the program back to the city at its end-of-year meeting Monday, meaning the city can get started with the knowledge that its time investment isn’t in vain, as Mayor Todd Heitschmidt aptly put it.

There could have been some tension between USD 408 and the city if both or neither of the groups wanted to handle recreation. Luckily, a resolution was reached amicably and, perhaps of greater import, quickly.

A dialogue was reopened between the city and USD 408 when the schools allowed for a six-month extension of current recreation operations. Otherwise, the city would have had to have an entire department organized by, well, today.

With more time to process possibilities, the city’s eventual proposal will surely outpace what would have come out of those frantic planning sessions.

In a community the size of Marion, “stuff to do” is a premium asset. That applies to all age groups and ability levels. In addition to organization and structure, variety appears to be a priority of the city’s recreation department. The community stands to greatly benefit from this.

Current operations emphasize events that pay for themselves, whereas under the city’s guidance, revenue-generating programs will help fund other programs that couldn’t exist previously. The model mirrors that of college sports. At most Division I schools, there are just two programs that generate revenue: football and men’s basketball. Athletic departments use money generated from those sports to fund other sports, which lose money. As a result, your favorite university likely offers between 15 and 22 varsity sports as opposed to just football and men’s basketball.

For Marion, that model could mean more free events, like tie-dye at the park, more events geared toward senior citizens, like bingo night, and more weekend sports tournaments — including adult sports opportunities — to complement the longer commitments of youth basketball, baseball, and softball leagues.

None of this should be taken as a slight against the recreation commission or director Margo Yates. The commission works hard, and Yates has been rightly and uniformly praised for her incessant work ethic and integrity as a community advocate.

City officials have indicated the position might be advertised and not offered to her outright. Any recreation director not named “Margo Yates” may find themselves being undermined, if only because decades of habit can be hard to break. It’s hard to envision Yates living in Marion and not making events happen, directing informational traffic from one position or another. Whatever her next step is, I trust that her talents won’t be wasted.

Let that not take away from the task at hand, which, for city officials, is to create the best recreation department possible to give Marion more cultural capital than it’s ever had.

It’s a great opportunity for the city leadership to turn a curveball into a grand slam, and we as a community should be watching and cheering, because when they go to bat on this, they go to bat for us.

— ELIOT SILL

Last modified July 2, 2015

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