Many students begin to consider their life’s work and future careers while in the early years of high school, some sooner. My grandiose desire to become a professional athlete is still common among many teens. The odds are stacked against that possibility though, something I learned early in high school.
While still playing and enjoying sports through my senior year in high school, I directed my focus to more realistic goals such as a sports reporter or teacher. After completing two years of general studies at Mesa Community, I enrolled at Arizona State as a journalism major with a health minor in education.
After a year of classes, I decided to pursue a different career and enrolled in the P.E., Dance and Recreation College (as it was called in 1975) to work in either P.E. or recreation. While in the college of recreation, I soon gravitated toward course work (and hopefully, future employment) in outdoor recreation.
All recreation majors had to complete volunteer hours as well as a three-month internship before graduating and earning the Bachelor of Arts or Science degree. I started late in pursuit of my recreation degree, so I planned to fulfill my volunteer hours and internship with the same agency: the United States Forest Service.
I was expected to perform as a regular forest service employee for over two months in the summer of 1978. I worked the campsites at Canyon Lake and on the Salt River with all the crazy tubers. While the forest service does employ armed enforcement officers, I was not armed but often reminded campers, day-lake users and tubers of certain rules and laws in place for everyone’s protection and safety.
The district ranger at that time for the Tonto National Forest was Harry Nickless, a tall, jovial man whom I admired and hoped to even work for some day. After a long and hot day patrolling the Salt River and astonished at the foolishness of some tubers (people who could not swim but gladly go tubing while consuming six-packs of beer), Harry asked me into his office. His news was devastating.
The district just received word it had to complete an environmental impact statement for the Environmental Protection Agency. The time necessary to complete this statement would prevent him from providing me an internship. This news arrived about two weeks prior to the start of my internship. I now had to scramble to find another agency where I could complete my senior internship.
I called my advisor at ASU and he said the director with Chandler Parks and Recreation requested an intern. I met with Frank Pezzorello and we agreed I could intern with the city of Chandler. I completed my internship in December of 1978 and while my ambition to work for the forest service went unfulfilled, I have no regrets working 35 years in municipal recreation.
I learned quickly that it’s wise to plan and have career goals but also to be flexible in response to unexpected changes. Working in parks and recreation has enabled me to meet a variety of great people, including fellow employees and members of the public in the communities I served. I was also able to provide a comfortable living for my family and soon to be, retirement for myself.
High school students who are undecided about their future should consider parks and recreation. You provide programs and events that not only improve the quality of life for your community, but are also educational and create life-long memories for the participants. Staff in our career field face challenges like any other career but opportunities for individual creativity are fulfilling.
The amount of planning and coordination that was required to present our annual 4th of July Freedom Fest was all worth the effort when we saw over 3,000 at the aquatic center and Heritage Park, enjoying the day’s events. I highly recommend a career in parks and recreation for high school and college students who are undecided about their future but want a rewarding and successful career.