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History and Current Overview


SUMTER COUNTY HISTORY & OVERVIEW OF RECREATION


The history of recreation can be traced back to 1938 in Sumter County, but it wasn’t until the 1950’s that the Americus Sumter County Recreation Department was established. Orion Mitchell was the first full-time recreation director, but it was the man who would succeed him that made recreation an integral part of the everyday lives of Sumter County residents. A local youth center was added on to the gymnasium at Americus High School that would be the gathering place and offices for the Americus Sumter County Recreation Department. This building burned in 1968.

Recreation in Americus – Sumter County became synonymous with the name “Finklea”. Coach Jack Finklea, followed Mitchell as the Recreation director and had a 28 year career leading the growth and expansion of the facilities and programs. Over this time, organized recreation was held in high regard and Americus was considered a leader, statewide, in the formation and value of governmental recreation opportunities. In youth sports, Americus had unprecedented success in both football and swimming. This is evidenced by the fact that both Dan Reeves and Chan Gailey would go on to be NFL Head Coaches. Angel Myers Martinez became an Olympic champion in swimming, getting her start with the Americus Blue Tide swim team. Nothing meant more to coach Finklea than his association with kids. Under Finklea’s direction, tremendous strides were made in the progress of the recreation department. Expansion included lighted tennis courts and softball fields, two swimming pools and numerous parks and playgrounds throughout the County.

Following Finklea, Mike Denham, Mike Bird and Jimmy Hightower would all have stints as the recreation director and maintain the level of excellence that coach Finklea had begun. Upon Hightower’s retirement, Rich DeLong was hired to help usher in a new era of recreation. A multi-million dollar athletic complex was being designed in which DeLong would play a key role. The Recreation board also decided at this time to bring in Americus native; Tim Estes as the assistant director. Estes was working in public parks and recreation in Montgomery, Alabama and it was felt the two would make a good team. In 1997, the Americus Sumter County Regional Park became a reality. There were five new baseball fields and five new practice fields constructed on the 228 acre property on South U.S. 19. This project helped propel participation numbers to double their amount from previous years and the community was again excited about recreation. In 1999, Michael Coleman was named the Executive Director of the department. Coleman had extensive experience in both athletic and maintenance from his previous employer in Dublin, Georgia. Under Coleman’s leadership, the agency became an “Authority” by an act of the Georgia Legislature. Now, both the city of Americus and the Sumter County Board of Commissioners would fund the agency. Over the previous ten year period, Americus Sumter County was earning a reputation of having one of the most well organized, competitive youth sports programs. Several championships on the district and state levels were being won and people were taking notice and wanted to be a part of such a quality program.

In 2007, Tim Estes was appointed as the Executive Director following the resignation of Mr. Coleman. Estes immediately re-organized the department by creating managerial positions in each division; maintenance, athletics, recreation and office. It was also during this time that the Sumter County Board of Commissioners and the city of Americus agreed to have the County government take over the operations of the parks and recreation department. This became reality in July of 2008, creating what is now the Sumter County Parks and Recreation Department. It was also during this time that a major construction project was begun, building the Columns at Boone Park Community Center.