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Leisure Services

Posted on: August 27, 2019

Long-time Leisure Services athletic superintendent Jim Crea retiring Aug. 30

Jim Crea holds a softball at Cane Creek SportsPlex

COOKEVILLE – The fields are ready, lined with new chalk and smelling of fresh-cut grass.

All is quiet… for now.

It’s a game night at Cane Creek SportsPlex, and Athletic Superintendent Jim Crea is ready as always, feeling a shift in the atmosphere as afternoon drifts toward evening. Soon the dirt will be covered with cleat marks. Bats will swing and drop, gloves will scoop, and players will slide into bases. Umpires will yell “Strike!” and spectators will cheer – or boo – from the stands.

“I’ve prepared myself, and now I’m ready for people to arrive,” Crea said of those pre-game moments he’s grown accustomed to over the past two decades.

He opens the gate.

“They start walking in, and I start talking to them,” Crea said. “Then the games start, and we watch them play.”

All the while, he’s making sure umpires, scorekeepers and concessions staff are in place and overseeing countless other details.

“It’s all about field monitoring and public relations until the last ‘Out!’ is made,” he said. “It’s just a good evening.”

And that – being among lots of sports-loving people – is what Crea, who turned 70 this past spring, said he’ll miss most when he retires on Aug. 30 after 20 years of service with the City of Cookeville Department of Leisure Services.

“I’ll just miss the environment,” he said.

After all, sports – baseball, softball and basketball in particular – have been a major part of his life going back to his youth.

“I just got really fixed on athletics,” he said. “It helped that my mother was very athletic.”

The New Castle, Penn., native played on his high school baseball and basketball teams. In college, he played baseball – two years at Youngstown State University in Ohio and two years at Salem University in West Virginia, where he graduated in 1974 with a bachelor of science in physical education.

After graduation, he became the program director at YMCA in Lancaster, Ohio. It was in Lancaster that he met and married his wife of 45 years, Cinda.

From there he moved on to YMCA facilities in Kansas City, Mo.; Aurora, Ill.; Mansfield, Ohio; and Lebanon, Ohio; before returning to Lancaster. Then he served as director of parks and recreation in both Whitehall, Ohio, and Somerset, Ky. Finally, in May of 1999, he joined Cookeville Leisure Services.

As athletic superintendent, Crea has overseen the department’s athletic division – managing everything from adult softball and kickball leagues at Cane Creek SportsPlex to basketball and soccer leagues and youth sports camps at Cane Creek Gymnasium. He’s hired several full-time and seasonal staff members to assist him in both facilities, whether it be selling concessions at ball games and other events or accommodating gymnasium walk-ins who’ve come to play pickleball, volleyball, basketball or cornhole.

Crea has also worked with numerous tournament directors to host baseball and softball teams from all over the region, bringing them to Cookeville for sanctioned play at the SportsPlex. The same is true for disc golf at Cane Creek Park, which hosts a couple of Professional Disc Golf Association tournaments each year.

It’s been a long and fulfilling career that has allowed him to “do my thing” in athletics.

And make a difference.

“When I walk out of here at night, I ask myself, ‘What have I done today for the people who have crossed my path – whether it be staff members, participants or volunteers – that made their life better for that day?’ or ‘What can I do tomorrow to make it even more pleasant?’ I’ve always tried to be fair. That was my number one thing.”

Crea’s last days on the job have been devoted to training his successor, former Tennessee Tech University women’s head softball coach Bonnie Graham.

“I feel I’ve built a foundation in athletics since I’ve been here, and my hopes are that this department will continue to build and expand upon that foundation, both in programs and facilities,” he said.

While he will miss the position he’s held for so long, Crea welcomes the next batter.

“I still like people, and I still like sports – but I’m 70 years old,” he said. “It’s time for someone else to do what they do.”

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