PETOSKEY – Gene Champion never did anything to be recognized.
He never did all of his work with Magnus Park in Petoskey and the Petoskey Winter Sports Park for back pats or plates.
Champion did it, because that’s what his heart was drawn to.
Members of the Petoskey community have noticed Champion’s work with Petoskey’s parks and recreation programs and he is now recognized by that department as the 40th recipient of the annual Glenn H. Casey Award.
“It feels good to be appreciated,” a humble champion said recently after receiving the honor. “What I enjoyed most about working at Winter Sports Park and Magnus was the kids.”
The Glenn H. Casey Award was established in 1981 to recognize a recreation volunteer who has demonstrated outstanding commitment to the city’s recreation program.
Casey was the first chair of the parks and recreation department.
Champion spent 27 years working at Petoskey Winter Sports Park, as well as 25 years at Magnus Park after retiring as a teacher at Petoskey.
He also spent 17 years as an assistant boys’ tennis coach under PHS Hall of Fame coach Ralph Tramontini, staying involved with the kids that way.
“I had no intention of making a career out of it, but I didn’t want a full-time job after retiring from teaching,” Champion said. “Our family spent so much time at the winter sports park, my wife had taught lessons there and my daughters were there often.”
Champion was known for his ideas that would flood in on how to make improvements to both areas, one of the biggest being improving the quality of the ice at Winter Sports Park.
“I’ve always been concerned about having the best ice out there,” Champion said with a laugh. “With a scientific background, I would understand a few more things about water freezing. The ice kept cracking and we had temperatures around zero, so I explained what was going on.
“I had made ice in my front yard, like a lot of skater dads have, for figure skating and hockey. Then when I started working at the Winter Sports Park, I started learning more things too.
Champion put things on hold with both programs and officially retired about three years ago, just before the pandemic hit, taking his time to focus on important things like family and fishing.
Petoskey Parks and Rec. Director Kendall Klingelsmith was on hand for the brief ceremony last week to recognize and present the award to Champion.
“He had put in long hours,” Klingelsmith said. “I’m still ambushed in Magnus because Gene isn’t with us there anymore. We appreciate you Gene, we appreciate all that you have contributed. Don’t stop at your ideas.
Other recent Glenn H. Casey Award winners include: Dennis and Karen Starkey (2019); Karen Flynn (2018); Allen Hansen (2017); Dick Harbaugh (2016); Dave Hansen (2015); Dree Lo (2014); Jack Taylor (2013); George Newson (2012); Gary Hunter (2011); and Paul Reed (2010).
Contact sportswriter Drew Kochanny at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter, @DrewKochanny, and Instagram, @drewkochanny