Programs for all ages among priorities for Oxford’s new parks director

After nearly eight years coordinating sports programming in the city, Casey Wooddell is stepping into a bigger role as director of the Oxford Parks and Recreation Department.

Wooddell officially begins his tenure as OPRD director Monday, Feb. 1. He replaces Gail Brahier, who officially retired Jan. 29. In his new role, Wooddell now leads a department responsible for programs over a wide age range and more facilities.

Hired in May 2008 as sports coordinator, he was promoted to sports supervisor in February of 2013 and has been responsible for the sports programming at the TRI Building and parks around the city. Now, he will oversee operations of the municipal swimming pool as well as a host of programs for all ages.

“I expect we will have an impact on the community,” Wooddell said. “We always consider ourselves full-service. Kudos to Gail for always pushing us to do something new.”

A major project on the horizon is construction of a new aquatics center at Oxford Community Park, 6801 Fairfield Road. With the actual design and planning of the project in place, the next step will be lining up funding.

“There has been years of planning the whole aquatics center design. Some updates might be necessary, but we hope to start fundraising in late 2016 or early 2017,” Wooddell said.

He said he expects to continue many of the same programs that have been successful, but said a recreation program must always assess programs and sometimes drop those with flagging interest and offer new ones to expand the base of people taking part.

“We should never be afraid to try something new and if it works, keep it going,” Wooddell said. “I want to continue to try new things. You cannot get in a tunnel and not try new things.”

One example, is expanding the uses for Community Park, he said.

“I would love to see some fitness equipment at the park for parents and grandparents to use while kids are on the playground,” Wooddell said. “The more we can put in one area and allow more users is a positive.”

He also plans to step up offerings for older residents.

“We’ve got to look at more involvement in the senior market,” Wooddell said. “One area will be a pickleball tournament in the spring. Pickleball is growing fast. It’s actually quite exciting.”

Pickleball is a racquet sport that combines elements of badminton, tennis and table tennis for two to four players using solid paddles made of wood or composite materials to hit a ball, similar to a wiffle ball, over a net.

A pickleball court has been painted on the tennis courts at the TRI complex. It started when the Oxford Seniors organization used the courts for their Masters’ Games, marking the court with tape. They have now painted the pickleball court at a small cost so the sport has a home.

“This makes it a multi-use facility,” Wooddell said, adding that once warmer weather moves in, games can be scheduled on Mondays and Wednesdays. “In the spring, we will organize a tournament.”

The spring sports season will soon arrive in Oxford, with the opening of the pool not far behind.

“My general plan is to meet with the staff about goals and how we can help each other,” Wooddell said. “A lot of us are in new roles, so I need to get familiar with the staff. During the summer, the pool will be the focus and we will be sure to have it safe and to have proper staffing.”

At the top of Wooddell’s to-do list is hiring someone to fill his former post. The sports coordinator job has been posted with an application deadline of Feb. 12.

The sports coordinator position includes working with Miami Little League, whose summer state tournaments are a boost to local business.

“We love it when they come here. It’s good for the kids from here to get to play here, but they bring revenue into the city. It’s good for businesses,” Wooddell said.

The tournaments rotate through the various districts in the state. Oxford was able to host out of turn when another district felt it did not have adequate facilities.

Wooddell, who comes to Oxford from West Milton, Ohio, earned a degree in sports management from Shawnee State in Portsmouth where he also played baseball. He is currently working on a master’s degree in sports management through an online program.

Wooddell also holds parks and recreation professional certifications and plans to get his pool operator’s license in March.

He and his wife, Heidi, have two sons, ages 2 and 4. His wife teaches kindergarten in the Tri-Village school district north of Dayton, so their Lakengren home in Eaton is approximately equal commuting distances for them.

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