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OPC Takes Home 5 Awards from Mississippi Recreation and Parks Association

By John Davis
Oxford Park Commission

For the third consecutive year, the top athletic/recreation facility in the state of Mississippi resides locally.

The Oxford Park Commission was presented with five awards from the Mississippi Recreation and Parks Association. One of the five was the Hayward “Bo” Phillips Design Award of Merit for the Ulysses “Coach” Howell Activity Center.

Completed in January at a cost of $12 million, the new center was named the top facility in the Class II category. It was the same award earned by FNC Park in 2018 and the FNC Tennis Center in 2017.

“We are certainly proud of the commitment made by the city officials, county officials, and our board for the citizens of Oxford and Lafayette County,” said Seth Gaines, OPC Executive Director about the award. “The Coach Howell center provides so many opportunities for all ages in this area. We have been very pleased with the number of people who have used the facility so far, and we look forward to finding new ways to use this great facility to our advantage for the betterment of residents.”

Instructional classes and special events have been a hallmark of the OPC under the direction of Gaines. The Mississippi High School Activities Association chose FNC Tennis Center as the site for its individual state championships this past spring. The MRPA came away impressed enough to award it Special Events in Sports Programming in Class II.

“It’s another example of why we move to different venues and better venues,” said Ricky Neaves, Associate Director of the MHSAA. “We’re always trying to do the best we can for our sports and with the availability of 20 courts and the cooperation we get from the park commission and the city of Oxford, it’s just a win-win for everyone involved. Especially our students and our parents.”

A total of 570 tennis players competed in the three-day tournament held April 29-May 1. It was the largest tennis tournament ever held in Oxford, and the largest collection of players for the MHSAA at one site.

“And we got it done, in one place, in three days because the facilities are great. The town is great, it’s just a great place to host events,” Neaves said. “Our schools and our tennis people love it there.”

The MHSAA has booked the individual tournament at FNC for the 2020 season as well.

Sam Pryor, left, was named Professional of the Year and  Kris Brasher was given the Recreation Therapist of the Year Award.
Photo by John Davis

A new class addition — FUNdamentals of Cooking for Kids — took home first place in the Arts, Humanities and Programming series. Elizabeth Speed has instructed children ages 8 to 13 on the fundamentals of kitchen etiquette, food preparation and the implementation of recipes over the past six months.

“I am grateful to OPC for the opportunity to offer this valuable skill to kids. It’s always fun to hear what they think about the dishes and to learn new things with them,” Speed said “I love to cook and hope that I am passing that along to the kids so that they too have an appreciation for good food and how it’s prepared. I’m looking forward to the Thanksgiving classes and hope to offer a Christmas class and possibly a family cooking class as well.”

A knowledgeable and dedicated staff proved to be of immense value this year in the eyes of the MRPA. Sam Pryor was named Professional of the Year for his work in leading the activity center, while former OPC employee Kris Brasher was named Recreation Therapist of the Year.

“We have great workers who have or who continue to do a great job with the community in their respective fields,” Gaines said. “We are very happy to have the MRPA acknowledge their dedication, their efforts and service.”

Pryor has been with the OPC for over a decade, serving in several different capacities before settling into his current role of facilities manager.

It is truly an honor and pleasure just to be nominated for this award,” Pryor said. “Winning the MRPA Recreation Professional of the Year is one of the highlights of my professional career so far. To know I have joined an elite group like Harvey Faust, Dr. Kim Beason, Mike Young, and the other Mississippi Parks and Recreational Professionals that have received this once a year award. The feeling is indescribable.”

Brasher served as the Leisure Lifestyles Administrator prior to him leaving for a position of instructor of Therapeutic Recreation at The University of Mississippi.

“This award was a complete and utter surprise,” Brasher said. “I am humbled and so excited to be named the Therapeutic Recreation Professional of the Year. It is a field that I love and that I wholeheartedly believe in. I hope that this award will help to bring recognition, increased enrollment, and exposure to the Therapeutic Recreation program that we are now building at the University.”

Over the past four years, the OPC has won 14 MRPA awards at the annual conference. This year’s conference was held in Biloxi.

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