By: Ernest Gurule
It’s become a seasonal problem in Pueblo when local parks are inundated with lions, tigers and bears. But these packs have nothing to fear since they are just the mascots of the various teams that the city’s parks and recreation department oversees each summer. But this menagerie is just the tip of the iceberg for the city. It also coordinates a number of other seasonal programs designed to keep thousands of young people engaged each summer.
The summer programs, Chris Hopes said, are for city and county residents. They “start in June and end in mid-August, just before school starts,” he said. Hopes, recreational sports coordinator for the city’s summer programs, said the city has created programs for all age groups, including families.
The 16-year-old City Parks veteran and Pueblo native said there are both team and individual sports ranging from tee-ball – the Little Sluggers league – for younger participants to track and field which culminates each summer with a statewide competition at Lakewood’s Jeffco Stadium.
Athletics, Hopes said, is “pretty equal” in terms of boys’ and girls’ participation. The events included both local and statewide late summer competition.
Events include sprints, long distance events, long jump and shot put. For younger participants, there are softball and baseball pitches.
All the city’s summer activities are led by dozens of young people hired as seasonal helpers. Many work under the supervision of adults, including people like Dan Radiff, a legendary Pueblo sports figure and
Radiff participates in the town’s swimming program. He worked with the city’s summer swimming program for several years. Now retired, he also works as a substitute teacher at Pueblo County High School.
Radiff’s resume is platinum in Pueblo sports circles.
The Pueblo native earned a dozen letters in high school; played college football for Adams State; holds several national age group records in swimming and track and field; and once missed the US Olympic team by less than half a second.
Nevertheless, he accompanied the team as a substitute. Unsurprisingly, he is a member of the Greater Pueblo Sports Hall of Fame. The goal, Hopes said, is not to produce star athletes and competitors, but rather to focus on the fundamentals. If a young person decides to take what he has learned to the next level, it is up to him. But in some cases, what they’ve learned is worth the time and investment, Hopes said, pointing to a group of young people who started in Pueblo Parks and Recreation’s flag football program as youth.
In high school, he said, many of them were members of the Pueblo East football program that won three consecutive state high school football titles. “They started in second and third grade,” he said. Much of their later success, he believes, came from “building the chemistry” learned in the parks and recreation curriculum. A number of other athletes who participated in the summer programs, he said, completed the Division I and II programs in team and individual sports.
Eric Santoyo, who is also a high school swim coach, coordinates the summer aquatics program in partnership with the town YMCA. There, he says, “courses are given” under a mutual agreement between the city and the “Y”. He also makes sure everything goes smoothly in the city’s almost always crowded public swimming pools.
Pueblo Parks and Recreation also operates a baseball program. And while baseball may not be the national pastime it once was, it remains a popular option, Hopes said. In addition to “coach/pitcher” baseball for a younger set, there are also “three baseball tournaments” played towards the end of the summer season.
One of Parks and Recreation’s most popular offerings is the three-on-three basketball competition played in what locals call “the Slab”, a basketball court located on an island/greenbelt separating the Bustling 29th Street in the city.
There’s also something for those who prefer to spend their time out of the sun and not in a competitive arena. The “Books in the Park” is a partnership with the City County Library District. Ray Aguilera and Fairmount Park are the sites for consulting books or working with arts and crafts. There is also a free lunch for under-18s provided by Pueblo School District 60.
Participants in the city’s summer program pay a $55 fee to enroll, but Hopes says there is an income-based scholarship option. For these participants, the fee covers the cost of a “uniform”, for the baseball program which includes a hat and jersey.