Changing Course

Photo Courtesy Of NAYS

Photo Courtesy Of NAYS

For more than 30 years, Jere Gunderman was perfectly happy with his retail and customer-service job in the private sector.

But then one night 12 years ago, a television program changed his thinking—and his life. While watching an HBO Real Sports segment examining adult violence at youth sporting events, Gunderman was stunned by what he saw, and was inspired to do something about it.

“This program was my wake-up call as to what was happening in youth sports,” Gunderman says. “I felt I needed to find out more, and eventually I was introduced to the Youth Sports Supervisor for the city of Clearwater (Fla.) Parks and Recreation, and discovered that we shared similar visions about the future of youth sports.”

He became a volunteer at the department, quickly earned a staff position, and in 2010 was promoted to Recreation Specialist/Youth Sports.

Today Gunderman, who also is a Certified Youth Sports Administrator, is an integral part of the sports programs the city provides for more than 3,000 youngsters.  

Here’s what else he had to say about his ultra-rewarding second career:

Fred: What is your department’s most popular program?

Jere: Our Excellence in Youth Sportsmanship Program. In 2002, the city wanted to recognize individuals who may not necessarily be the best athletes, but who display a positive attitude and show respect toward their opponents, officials, and coaches. The winner from each organization is recognized in front of the city council during a council meeting, is presented with a letter signed by the mayor (televised on the local city cable channel), and has his or her picture posted on a plaque, along with the other winners. The plaque is posted outside of Copogna’s Dugout, a local restaurant that also sponsors the program. 

Fred: Share a story that makes you smile and glad to be in this profession.

Jere: The parks department has had the opportunity to apply for various grants; the latest one involved converting a weeded lot into a multisport turf field that is now the primary practice field for one of our football and cheerleading groups. As part of the groundbreaking and grand-opening ceremonies, five Tampa Bay Buccaneer players attended and manned skill stations. Seeing young kids awestruck in meeting and talking to professional athletes reminded me of why I am in this job. Nothing matches the smile of a kid catching a pass from an NFL quarterback.

Fred: What is the best idea the department has come up with since you have been there, and how has it impacted the program?

Jere: We recently developed a partnership with Morton Plant Mease BayCare Health System Sports Medicine to host free seminars for users. Professionals in the healthcare-delivery service have conducted presentations at various coaches’ meetings and have also hosted programs with parents and players. Topics covered include sports-injury prevention, hydration for the student-athlete, and the prevention and management of concussions in active youth and adults. These seminars have been well-received by the participants, and the programs are growing in popularity.

Fred: What makes your youth programs so great?

Jere: The parks and recreation department’s ability to create meaningful and lasting partnerships has given us the flexibility to help users maintain viability and sustainability. Another such partnership is with Clearwater for Youth, a local benevolent organization that raises money for area youth-sports groups in the form of grants, matching grants, and scholarships. The organization is supported by professional athletes, past and present, and professional businessmen and women who have a passion for youth sports.

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