Life made easier in Baltimore County BALTIMORE COUNTY

THIS DEPARTMENT IS JUST FOR FUN

April 16, 1993|By Ed Brandt | Ed Brandt,Staff Writer

An elderly man walks his dog to Double Rock Park in Fullerton Heights to watch the baseball games.

A 6-year-old in black tights skips into the Parkville Middle School with her mother, eagerly anticipating her weekly tap dance class.

Ten-year-olds line up for uniforms in Owings Mills, then straggle out onto fields that are almost dry enough for practice.

They're just a few of the 348,000 people -- almost half of Baltimore County's population -- who are touched every year by the the county's Department of Recreation and Parks, either as participants or volunteers.

On top of this shifting anthill of activity is ex-soccer star, former educator, and novice golfer Wayne Harman, who switched careers two years ago at the age of 56 to take over the department. Actually, the change wasn't unpredictable.

"Recreation has always been in my bones," Mr. Harman said with intensity.

"I founded the Hampstead Little League program while I was a teen-ager. I moonlighted for years for the department while I was teaching school. Both my children went through the recreation program. It's what I love.

"Besides which, my guy won," he said bluntly.

His guy is his boss, Roger B. Hayden, who was elected in 1990 and put Mr. Harman in charge.

Organized recreation in Baltimore County is a powerhouse mixture of politics and play, of endless activity, day and night, season after season.

In addition, the Recreation Department was a quiet but effective hand behind the acquisition this year of the 220-acre Satyr Hill farm in Cromwell Valley, which it will administer as a public park and model farm. More acquisitions are forthcoming.

Consider Mr. Harman's impressive domain: a $10 million budget, 250 full-time and 1,500 part-time employees, more than 68,000 volunteers who put in a million hours of work a year, three golf courses that contribute $1 million a year to the county's general fund, 10,000 acres of land in 450 parks and 173 miles of shoreline.

Not to mention enough political muscle to keep the program going despite precarious economic times and budget cuts.

"Many county officials and council members have children in the program," Mr. Harman said.

"They themselves have participated, and some still coach, so they're interested in seeing the program grow."

For support, Mr. Harman can turn to the 44 recreation councils, all-volunteer groups that operate county-sponsored recreation.

The councils are independent agencies with their own budgets -- audited annually -- and run by boards that operate under rules set out by the county.

The county provides maintenance, leadership, structure and some materials.

"The recreation councils have a lot of political power," Mr. Harman said, "because they touch most of the families in Baltimore County one way or another.

Last fall, a $3.3 million bond referendum for land acquisition passed with no problem at all."

Besides offering baseball, basketball, soccer, softball and a variety of other sports for youngsters and adults, the councils run hundreds of programs as diverse as archery, dog obedience, gardening and chess.

"The Recreation Department is no longer an athletic club," Mr. Harman said.

"Adult slow-pitch softball is still the hottest item we have, with more than 42,000 players registered last year, but we want to appeal to every element, and we have to consider the senior population in the county, which is growing rapidly," he said.

More than 25,000 youngsters registered last year to play in the baseball program, which includes a healthy Little League lineup.

One of the people the program has touched is Joe Brooks, 63, who is retired from the Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. and is now president of the Parkville Recreation Council.

Parkville had a budget of about $110,000 last year to run 75 activities. Most of that money came from contributions, fees and fund-raisers.

Mr. Brooks spends about 10 hours a week on council business. He became involved through his three children and three grandchildren, all of whom have participated in one county recreation program or another.

"I do it for the children, and not only mine," Mr. Brooks says. "It's an extremely valuable service. It teaches the kids respect for themselves and respect for others, and they're not out there running the streets."

One of those children is Jordan Lincoln, 6, who was energetically kicking a ball around the gym after school at Villa Cresta Elementary School, off Taylor Avenue.

The program is Fun Gym, but it looked more like organized chaos, as Jordan and seven other first- and second-graders played kickball and shot baskets. Fun Gym is in many of the county's elementary schools.

Overseeing the frenzy were Stefanie Baker and Dona McKenzie, part-time supervisors for the department.

"The fee is small, and it works off a lot of energy," Ms. Baker said. "The parents of these kids work, and the kids stay here until a parent picks them up. The program helps them and the kids."

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