Sliding into the New Year

demo of old slide

So we’re going to replace our old waterslide with a brand spanking new double-flume waterslide? Yesssssss, that’s so exciting! It will be an amazing addition to our facility for the 2023 season. Wait….you’re kidding….we’re going to construct and open it during the season of 2022….guess I better put on my big boy pants for this one…

Yes, I was involved with the construction and opening of a waterslide mid-season. It was a fun, sometimes difficult, but rewarding process. What started as a single-flume waterslide in late 2021, blossomed into a double flume waterslide that would be a marked improvement over the previous version.

new double-flume slide

Things we had to contend with, in no particular order…

  • An abbreviated timeline-we wanted this slide to be open for our patrons to use during the 2022 season. We knew this would require us to be as efficient as possible. Quicker demo, quicker site prep, quicker construction, etc. In this regard, the weather actually helped us out and we were able to have the site prepped for the waterslide in a very good time. As you can see, though, that led to some other issues…
  • Lead times-we’ve all heard it in the news and read it in the headlines. Lead times are sometimes 6-12 months longer than they were pre-Covid. The early days of Covid, where the store shelves were decimated and void of toilet paper were truly signs of things to come in the realm of supply chain issues.
  • Public perception-the contractors that we worked with did a great job of getting the site prepped before Memorial Day. But the problem that this created was that people thought the slide should just come in the next day and be put up like a Lego set. And because the site was prepped so quickly, the public perception was that we weren’t doing anything, when in fact we were waiting on the flume and tower to be fabricated, pumps/motors to be shipped, piping for plumbing to be shipped, etc.

When members saw that we were going to be having a slide installed and available during the 2022 season, they, just like us, hoped it would be opening weekend as opposed to mid-season. At any rate, even with all the curveballs we saw, we were able to see the flume and tower being assembled in mid-July, which was a miracle in my eyes. Progress was able to be seen each day as the tower and flume took shape. And when the slides officially opened and I once again saw a line of people on the tower waiting to slide down, a smile came across my face. And maybe a sigh of relief as well!

Happy New Year!

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A Day in the Life

by Jeremy Mortorff

Date: Any sweltering day in June, July, or August

Location: Unnamed aquatic facility in Central Pennsylvania

10:15am-Clocking in for the day

Getting in a little early for my shift today. Starting the day with adult fitness hour. Wonder how many fights I’ll have to break-up between the walkers and the lap swimmers? Can’t we all just get along?

10:30am-Grab my tube, hip pack, and head out to the stand

Looks like a pretty large group of patrons today for fitness hour. We have our regular lap swimmers and a few fresh faces. Must be because the local indoor fitness center pool is closed.

11:45am-Summer camp arrives

Ahhh yes, the influx of K-5 aged children. Hoping that the supervision is good today. We have summer camps from around the area that bring their groups to our facility on a weekly basis.

12:30pm-More people, more people

We are definitely reaching capacity today. That line at the admission desk hasn’t let up since we opened. Makes sense since it is the first 90 degree day we’ve had in a week or so. Hoping that the ”on-call” guard actually comes in today when requested…

2pm-I’m going in!!!

I scan my zone, left to right, top to middle, middle to bottom. Everything has gone great so far today. Parents have been really attentive, being right there within arm’s length of their children. Summer camp counselors have been outstanding. Other guards have been awesome too – addressing issues before they become large problems. I continue to scan…that child that just went down the waterslide…they look panicked. Their eyes are bugging out…they’re stuck in the current at the bottom of the slide…TWEET-TWEET-TWEET!!!

2:05pm-Paperwork

One of the responding guards carries a clipboard with a rescue report and we locate the adult responsible for the child. They are shocked that their child required saving. I explain that the current at the bottom of the water slide is very strong and that can sometimes present issues, even for a decent swimmer. We have the adult help us fill out the report. They tell the child they’ll have to skip the slide until they can get out of the current successfully. The adult thanks us for being there to keep their child safe. This makes it worth it!

4pm-People leaving…aka the Mass Exodus

It’s 4pm and a lot of guests are now leaving for the day. Off to get Chick-fil-A for their quick dinner before baseball and softball practice tonight. Summer camps have gone too, so the crowds are much more manageable now. Though it isn’t all sunshine and roses. There is a rowdy group of young men that are continually dismissing the requests of lifeguards and begin mocking them. I’m the lucky target right now…

6pm-DENIM

“Sir, I’m sorry, but you can’t swim in denim pants.” The confused look on his face indicates to me that he doesn’t understand or just doesn’t care. I double tweet to get a manager out to take it from there. The manager comes out and immediately understands my struggle. They calmly explain to the guest the reasons why denim is not an acceptable form of swimming attire. The entire time I’m thinking to myself wet jeans CANNOT be comfortable…

7pm-Swim lessons

This is my favorite time of day. I love teaching our children and youth swimming skills. After all, swimming is a life-skill and everyone can benefit from it! The group of children I have this week are amazing! They are really engaged, listening, and trying all of the skills we present. The safety topic each day is my favorite part!

8pm-Closing time

It’s 8pm and we close the facility for the day. My chore today is the bath house, which is lovely because it usually takes all visitors at least 20 minutes to finish up in there after closing. What exactly are they doing in there???

Anyhow, I take the time to help out with the organizing of the guard office and bag a few rounds of trash. The amount of trash that is made on a busy day at an aquatic facility is mind-blowing.

The last patron exits the bath house and I head in there, gloved up, to assess the damages. Not too bad, amazingly. That means that my fellow guards did a great job when they had their checks throughout the day. It’s just a few paper towels, a diaper (really????), a pair of goggles and a towel.

I check in with the Head Guard and then head to the manager’s office to fill out my timesheet. Today is the end of our pay period, so I take a little extra time to check my math, total my timesheet, sign it, and hand it to the manager on duty.

As I head out to my car, I reflect on the day, especially the rescue that I had. Thank goodness for our in-service training schedule that keeps us sharp and ready to respond to any emergency that could come our way. While I dread the early mornings and late nights when they take place, these are the moments I’m grateful for the thoroughness of our training. 

Here’s to hoping that tomorrow someone doesn’t try to swim in a velour sweatsuit…

Bloom Where You’re Planted

by Jeremy Mortorff, Recreation Program Specialist, Hampden Township Parks & Recreation Department

Photo by Mina-Marie Michell on Pexels.com

We all reach a point in our careers where we come to a crossroads. What are we going to do to advance up the ladder? Add that CPRP or CPRE to our name? Possibly branch out into a new wing of recreation to diversify and make ourselves more marketable? Or maybe take a hard left or right onto a new path altogether?

Or, we could try something radically different. You (yes, YOU!) can decide to bloom where you’re planted. You are where we are for some reason. Maybe it’s because you are new in your career and just getting established. Or maybe you are coming back to parks and recreation after a time away from the field. Whatever the case, we have the power to make the absolute best of our current situation. Let me pose a question to you…

Are you content to remain in your current position forever? The quick answer most of us would offer is of course not! Naturally, we want to be rewarded for our hard work –  getting promotions and with it the corresponding bumps in pay. But let me tell you (and I know I don’t need to) – it’s competitive out there. Like survival of the fittest, dog-eat-dog competition. Forget Bachelor’s degree, CPRP, CPRE, APRP (Awesome Parks and Recreation Professional-okay, okay, I may have made that one up but I could be on to something!)-many of the people out there seeking department head level roles have those letters and degrees behind their name – and much more. You need to stand out-you certainly can do that during the interview process-but guess what-if you do get that elusive interview, it may not matter the letters you have behind your name, the experience you’ve attained-the interviewer may just click with someone else more. So, what is a person to do?

In my personal journey, I’ve embraced the concept of “blooming where you’re planted”-take the time to be the best that you can be in your current role! If you are a Program Coordinator, be the best Program Coordinator known to man! Commit to running the most diverse range of programming out there, with instructors that have the same mindset of quality and innovation and won’t settle for second best. If you are an Aquatics Director, be the best Aquatics Director you can be! Take a fresh look at your lifeguard and in-service training programs. Commit to a re-invigorated way of thinking with a fresh set of eyes!

Now, this isn’t to say that you shouldn’t aspire for better things. Certainly, set LARGE GOALS! But don’t focus so much on reaching that level that you lose sight of the amazing opportunities in front of you! In my experience, I’ve found that if you take care of business day in and day out, those opportunities will come!

Full Circle

by Jeremy Mortorff, Hampden Township Parks & Recreation Department

When I started my career in aquatics, I wasn’t lifeguard certified. I know, I know, you’re thinking to yourself “How can someone who is ultimately looking out for the safety and well-being of pool-goers not even be a lifeguard?!! Well, what can I say, I was a late bloomer to aquatics.

I remember going through the lifeguard course back in 2010. No surprise – I was the oldest person in the class. Not only that, but talk about humbling when I was rocking the dadbod look among a group of young, chiseled lifelong swimmers. 

However, taking the class opened my eyes to how physically and mentally demanding the lifeguard course actually is. Having never previously guarded, I wasn’t aware of the physical toll that the class takes on you. CPR, entries and approaches, shallow water rescues, deep water rescues, backboarding – I was exhausted every day. However, it gave me a much-needed perspective and appreciation for what my guards went through as I prepared for my first season of aquatics management.

So with that groundwork, one would think that I would never let my certification expire, right…RIGHT? Well, having small children can really make you forgetful…throw in COVID-19 and you have the perfect concoction for letting my certification lapse. Yep. Major fail. That means that if I wanted to get my lifeguard certification again, no more 8 hour review course. Nope –  I had to complete the real deal – a 20+ hour course. Oh boy. How was I going to do this again? It was 11 years later, I was a lot older (kids tend to do that, TBH), and I was more than a few pounds heavier.

Well, none of that mattered because I needed to get my certification again. I found a class online, registered, and received the necessary pre-course links from the American Red Cross. Blended learning-that wasn’t even an option back in 2010. I completed the pre-course work, made sure that I could still swim the 300, do the brick retrieval, and tread water for the necessary time without using my arms, which isn’t as easy as it sounds.

I registered for a class that ran all day Saturday and Sunday (with course work on Friday night as well!).  I figured there was no way we would have to be there for the entire scheduled time on both days…boy was I wrong. The class in which I was enrolled was the most thorough and comprehensive lifeguard class that I had ever been a part of. I left each day physically and mentally exhausted, but with a deeper appreciation for my lifeguard staff. I was also able to network through the class and make some great connections for the future!

The class was needed. It reinvigorated my passion for aquatics and reminded me of the intense training that my lifeguards go through just to attain their certification. I felt like I had come full circle from the beginning of my career – only this time around I took so much more away. Experiencing the process and putting myself in the shoes of my young team members helps me to be more relatable and ultimately, a better leader.

HELP, I’ve Fallen and I Can’t Get Up!

The aftermath of the goose poop slide. That was one of my favorite shirts.

The title of my latest blog entry should invoke images of a silver haired elderly woman crying out in panic as she stares up from the floor after tumbling out of the shower. If only she had Life Alert! What the title is actually referring to is me getting stuck in the 12 foot diving well of the Hampden Pool last pre-season with no way out. Yes, you read that correctly. Allow me to set the stage…

It was early June and I was draining and pressure washing our main pool to prepare it for acid washing. In any other year or time, I would have thought we were in the twilight zone if you would have said I’d be just starting to drain the pool in June. But, alas, COVID-19…anyhow, moving on. Our Board had just voted to open the Pool with COVID restrictions in place. IN 4 WEEKS! What normally would take me 8-12 weeks to accomplish, I had to tackle in 4!

Which brings me back to being stuck in the diving well. There I was, soaked in mud-we’ll pretend it was only mud…side note-while our department was furloughed for the month of April, a lovely goose couple moved in, set up shop, and had babies. (Now you know why I was telling myself it was only mud).  In the rush to finish the job, I hadn’t cleaned the ramp that led out of the diving well properly…or at all. One step on that thing and it was the goose poop slide to the bottom. While I composed myself (and muttered more than a few curse words), I learned some things down there.

  1. Never rush the job-I was under pressure to get things accomplished quickly, but I should have never rushed. Finishing the pressure washing of the ramp leading to the diving well would have negated me getting stuck in there. It is possible that I still could have slipped, but I would have been able to get out of there with a freshly cleaned ramp. Whether it be a grant application, the design of a program guide, or that latest social media post, don’t rush things. Put thought and sound decision making into every task you set out to accomplish.
  1. For some jobs, don’t work alone-Had I been working with someone else on this fine day, they could have thrown a rope to me or lowered a ladder, or called the fire company…I’m glad the fire company wasn’t called. I shudder to think about if I would have hit my head on the way down, or had some other injury that would have prevented me from actually recovering to my feet. If I had a partner there, if for nothing more than to ensure that I was able to accomplish the final task of cleaning the diving well, things would have been a little easier that day.
  1. Always have back up-Whether it be a person (see above), or a cell phone, always have a back-up plan if things go haywire. As I stood in the deep, deep diving well, I cursed myself for not tethering my being to something sturdy before I even got close to the ramp.

The good news is that, other than my ego, nothing else was bruised this time. And we finished everything we needed to in order to open the facility in four weeks. And we had a great season, all things considered. As for how I actually got out of the diving well? Ask me that in-person the next time you see me.

So you want to have a successful season?

This feeling comes over you every year. You survive the summer, sail smoothly through the fall, then the holidays. But before you know it, it’s March and another busy season is upon you. Have no fear parks and recreation professionals! In honor of spring training and the return of baseball, I’ve assembled my “triple play” of summer preparation below!

Timeline

I’ve found this extremely helpful. I grab my budget binder and start mapping out all of the projects we have planned for the upcoming season. Things like draining the pool, painting the pool, pump maintenance. Then I go further with smaller scale items such as purchasing uniforms, setting up water testing, etc. Go through your entire book and map out all of these items. It will help immensely to ensure that you aren’t missing anything for the upcoming season. And I’m not just referring to making a list-this is a timeline. Add dates, knowing that as always, you will have to be flexible. Make it detailed-when I list draining the pool, it isn’t just “draining the pool”. Accompanying that item is the following-prepare work order requests for use of XYZ from public works, etc.

Communication of Expectations

This is obviously a no-brainer but there can never be too much communication with your staff or potential staff. Try to keep them in the know throughout the off-season. Send that rehire email in November or December with information on applying for the upcoming season. Once you have their application, reach out to them to set up a phone call or virtual meeting to discuss your expectations for them for the season and to make sure, even though they may have checked full-time on their application, that they don’t intend to be off for 60 plus days during the season due to their hectic “travel” schedule. Make them aware right off the bat about the scheduled day for staff orientation and that it is mandatory, with few exceptions-dinner with friends at Applebee’s isn’t going to cut it! Finally, know that during this time you may hear back from some of your all-star returning staff that they have other intentions for the summer that don’t involve things such as coordinating private swim lessons or scanning patrons into the pool. That’s okay-I welcome that time to wish them luck with their alternate plans for the summer and let them know that if things change, they always have a home back with me. This is crucial because things can and will change. Once that occurs, you will be welcoming that all-star back into the fold with open arms.

Give yourself some grace

Once crunchtime really hits, say May or so, don’t be too hard on yourself. Certainly continue to hold yourself to the high expectations that you always have. But also know that, especially this time of year, you can’t control all things. Inevitably, the weather is not going to cooperate when you need it to be sunny and 75 for that contractor to finish painting the pool. Or, just as you think things are all set, a part is going to break in your facility. This is the time to adapt to things on the fly and know that you didn’t plan it this way, but darn it, you’re going to make the best of it and get the job done!

Do you have other tips of the trade that you follow to prepare yourself for the best season possible? Please take a second to leave a comment below. As always, best of luck preparing for another busy season and I’ll talk to you soon!

-Jeremy

Different perspective-why 2020 wasn’t the worst

I don’t have to say this statement, but here goes-2020 was not a good year in a lot of people’s minds. From COVID-19, to stay at home orders, to civil unrest, to a Presidential election that brought out the worst in some people, was there anything from 2020 that didn’t make you question what was happening in this world and wondering where it all went wrong?

Let me recap 2020 by taking a different perspective on it. In looking back on this year, I know I feel differently about a number of things than I did at this point a year ago. Let me elaborate…

An appreciation for parks and public spaces…

When the pandemic really reached a boiling point in the United States in March, people were scared to leave their homes. However, we quickly realized that we could socially distance in parks and open spaces. Parks were where people were able to exercise, birdwatch, ride their bike, or simply walk and take in the fresh air as a change of pace from the coronavirus pandemic. From the Appalachian Trail, to state parks, and local parks, the spotlight was on these places and they didn’t disappoint. I know it made me appreciate the fact that I have a park directly behind my house even more.

An appreciation for technology…

There probably was a time, not too long ago, that all of us took for granted the ability to video call our parents, grandparents, children, etc. via Facetime, Google Duo, etc. Honestly (no judgement here) how many of us even used Zoom before this pandemic? I know I hadn’t used it, but boy did that change (I’m looking at you, PRPS!). Those weeks during lockdown were made easier by the ability to see our loved ones through those tiny screens in our pockets. I generally agree with Joe Battisa (you remember him from the 2019 PRPS conference, right?) when he referred to cell phones as “digital distraction devices” but I think we all can agree that they changed our ability to stay connected during this pandemic.

An appreciation for time…

We all know time is fleeting but we’re so busy running from this practice, to a quick dinner, to scouts, back home (you get the picture) that we don’t always sit back and realize where we are placing our priorities or investing our time. The only thing that never stops is time. It will always keep moving. This pandemic gave me the opportunity to spend a month with my kids that I never had before. I was able to do things I typically was not expected to do such as run the daily schedule of my five and one year old (at the time). It gave me a new appreciation for what my wife and mother-in-law did for providing child care on a daily basis. From sticking to a nap schedule for the one year old, to engaging my five year old through ways that didn’t involve a screen (let me tell you, we played a lot of ABC Go Fish!), it gave me the opportunity to bond with my children in a way that I would have never experienced if it wasn’t for the pandemic. Disclaimer-I LOVE my job and never want to be furloughed or laid off again. Just want to make that crystal clear!

So although I hope we never have to experience a year quite like 2020 again, I also recognize the good that came out of it and my hope is that you take some time over the next few weeks and think about why 2020 was a good year for you too.

WARNING-Now entering hostile territory

We’ve all been there before. We have to approach a patron or customer and talk with them about something that they aren’t going to like. Maybe they’re wearing inappropriate swimwear, or they have brought something into your facility that isn’t allowed, or maybe they’re being unsafe in some way. Either way, you know in your head that they aren’t going to enjoy being approached by a manager or an authoritative figure. This is the moment in time when you can either make or break this interaction. Allow me to share some tips that I’ve collected over the years (sometimes learning things the hard way) that have helped me in these situations.

Number one-envision the interaction going positively in your mind. I know it sounds corny, but I’ve done this over the years and it has helped immensely. Whatever the situation, I always go through the scenario playing out in my mind. I take it literally one step at a time-I picture myself approaching the customer, introducing myself. Then I’ll ask them if they’ve visited our facility before and explain the infraction. They smile, laugh, say they completely understand and apologize for the misunderstanding, then we high five and I’m off to the next part of my day. Okay, okay, so it almost never, ever goes that way, but if you envision it going positively, you instantly gain confidence in the interaction you’re about to have.

Number two-use soft words during the interaction. Avoid words that are confrontational or demeaning. You don’t want to give any indication that you are above this individual or are in any way trying to put them down. Chances are, the individual you are approaching is already going to be on the defensive, so be cautious and think about the language and tone you are using. If a customer is breaking a rule you might respond with “You may not have been aware” rather than  “You didn’t know about the rule.” It seems small, but it can make a world of difference.

Number three-this is the easiest thing you can do, but I find that not enough people do this in today’s world-SMILE! If you approach someone with a kind smile (and maintain it), it is much more difficult for that person to become angry with you. Sure, they may question your sanity and think it’s strange, but they will have a harder time holding onto anger and that’s what you want in the long run!

Finally, realize that even if you do everything that I’m suggesting, and throw in a few of your own, the interaction could still go sideways in a hurry. If that happens, take a deep breath, stay calm, and know that somewhere else, at that very moment, there is a recreation professional having the same conversation and feeling the same things you are. That should give you enough encouragement to carry on confidently!

Hello from the other side

The thought of being furloughed had never even seriously crossed my mind. As I had been observing over the weeks since COVID-19 started changing our everyday life, parks and recreation team members were essential workers. Our parks remained busy, as some trails and paths were people’s only outlet for being outside in a safe, social distancing manner. However, my world was rocked when I received official notice that our entire department was being furloughed.

Even my employer was not immune to the havoc and uncertainty that COVID-19 was having on our world. As I thought about what being furloughed meant, I decided to take this opportunity to make the best of it. Maybe try something new, such as cooking (my wife will tell you I’ve been saying this for about ten years), and just make the best of this unplanned situation. Being furloughed has also given me the opportunity to reflect. Reflect on the things I’m grateful for. Reflect on the fact that my family has managed to stay healthy during this pandemic – and to reflect on my career in parks and recreation.

I never envisioned a career in parks and recreation, to be honest. I went to Temple University and majored in Sport and Recreation Management and I envisioned myself working in sports media relations for either a collegiate athletic department or a professional sports team. Then I completed a few internships in the sports media relations field and quickly realized that wasn’t the path for me. Literally, no knocks on those professionals, but they are tied to their teams. I was glad that I realized this before I graduated. The problem was, what was I to do now? I can remember the Assistant Dean of the School of Tourism and Hospitality Management at the time, Jeffrey Montague, asking if I’d ever considered working in parks and recreation. I’m not going to lie, I pretty much dismissed his question. However, it did plant the idea of parks and recreation in my head. I’m forever grateful for Montague, as we referred to him, for having this short conversation with me, which has led to 11 years working in parks and recreation.

I’ve been able to reflect on my path in parks and recreation. It hasn’t always been the easiest. There have been times when I’ve wanted to give up. There have been times when I thought I didn’t have what it takes. There have even been times when I thought I’d be better suited for something else. But, I’ve always come back to how much I love parks and recreation and how gratifying of a career choice it’s been for me. I’ll patiently wait to return back to work from my furlough. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy this detour that life has thrown at me by spending time with my family that I otherwise wouldn’t have had, continue to expand my horizons, and maybe sit in on a virtual roundtable offered by PRPS. Until next time….

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