Northern Blair Rec Center board counting on new director’s years of experience

TIPTON – When Richard Bishop was the Tyrone YMCA’s executive director from 1984-98, he was known to use more than his managerial skills at work, often fixing windows or going door-to-door to solicit help from the community to keep the deteriorating building in one piece.

“I always remembered Richard as a very good manager and a very aggressive manager,” Bruno DeGol said. “He got things done.”

DeGol and other Northern Blair County Recreation Center board members said they were looking for that kind of repeat success when they hired Bishop less than a month ago to serve as the

facility’s new director.

After leaving the YMCA, Bishop served as DelGrosso’s Amusement Park’s director of water park operations until 2012.

Bishop then worked for a year in maintenance at Graystone Court.

Then a few months ago, recreation board members approached him about the director’s position to boost participation and bring his wealth of experience to the job.

Survive and thrive

Coming on as director was about more than getting back to a job he enjoyed, Bishop said, because he had always carried with him a passion for working with kids.

Bishop served as Tyrone Area High School swim coach for 20 years and continued to run lifeguard classes to support the Bellwood-Antis and Tyrone community pools, as well as DelGrosso’s, he said.

As a Red Cross certified instructor-trainer, Bishop said that in addition to the lifeguards, other instructors in the area, likely were trained by him.

“I’ve maintained that the whole time,” he said of his certification.

He said it was out of dedication to the community that he decided to come back, to make sure the facility “survives and thrives.”

To do so, his No. 1 focus is building on existing partnerships and improving youth programming.

Front desk attendant and indoor cycling instructor Donna Bell said a lot of area children don’t have a lot to do, and she’s looking forward to seeing Bishop’s vision for the center.

“I think he has a lot of good upcoming ideas,” she said. “He’s looking years down the road, not just today.”

Bishop said he plans to draw on his YMCA experience to keep children busy, not only to keep them out of trouble but also to get them off the couch and active.

He also plans to work on summer camps and after-school programs, as well as sponsorship programs for at-risk kids.

Part of that goal is to expand so that more things are offered and everything is affordable.

“We’re not going to reach our objective if it’s too expensive,” Bishop said.

Using what’s there

For instance, he said, the center has a softball field that’s used for women’s and coed leagues, but there is a soccer field with no soccer programs.

He sees potential in bringing back those programs and using the softball field even more, even if it’s just for a youth T-ball league.

He also plans to build an outdoor basketball court with the help of an Albemarle Corp. sponsorship.

There are a lot of programs that have come and gone through the years, Bishop said, but you wouldn’t know that from the center’s website or Facebook account, where many still are displayed.

A few of those programs were cut because they were time consuming and didn’t produce enough revenue, Bishop said, but they were some of the most popular and kept people coming back for other activities.

“You can’t look at just what will make you money,” he said, because people often will be willing to work with the center to support other programs when the ones they like are affordable. “There is a payback,” he said.

And Bishop also hopes that kind of planning will keep the center solvent.

When he came on at the YMCA, it was a facility similar to the center, he said, because it was financially struggling and in need of some big changes.

“When I left, the YMCA had resolved its debt and established a trust fund,” Bishop said.

Fortunately, the center doesn’t have the structural issues the YMCA did, and community partnerships and business sponsorships won’t need to be invested back into the building itself. Instead those dollars can be used to expand on programs and new facilities.

A good staff

One of the strongest partnerships is already in place with Evolution Physical Therapy.

“We have all the equipment their clients need,” he said, and he hopes the staff’s talent and other amenities will keep its clients coming back even after their therapy is over, whether it’s for aerobic fitness or strength training.

That will be a key function of the staff, he said.

Most already work independently, he said, like Bell, who he said took two years to develop the center’s “Revolution” spinning class from board-approval stage through fundraising for the facility’s $10,000 worth of bikes.

“[They’re] the nucleus of where we’re going to be starting [to build],” he said.

Experience factor

Both DeGol and fellow board member, Magisterial District Judge Fred Miller, said the key element they were looking for in a new director was experience.

Miller said it was just by chance that the center was built around the time the YMCA closed, but the board hopes Bishop can help the center continue to fill that void.

“We want to serve the recreational needs of northern Blair County,” Miller said. “Our focus is the same [as Bishop’s].”

Miller said the board wanted the facility to continue to improve, and they could think of no one better than Bishop.

Nearly a month into his job, Bishop rarely uses his director’s office.

It still lacks a computer and phone line, which he said he’s working on, but for the time being, he’s more concerned with the rest of the building.

“The facility is run on a couple PCs,” he said, so the staff will soon be looking at a more modernized record-keeping system, all while he’s busy kicking around ideas for fixing sound issues in the gym.

Asked whether he cares that the title at the center is “director” and not “executive director” like his predecessor’s title and his YMCA title, Bishop shrugs.

“I’m not big on titles,” he said. “It’s more about getting the job done.”

Mirror Staff Writer Kelly Cernetich is at 946-7520.