The Sterling Heights Parks and Recreation Department, have pivoted, and pivoted again to try to meet their community’s needs over the last year. With COVID-19 restrictions continually providing hurdles for the team in charge of Doge Park, farmer’s markets, an ice rink, and several neighborhood play spaces, it’s been a challenge. Last week the department’s efforts were recognized with two mParks awards at a virtual annual conference on Feb. 2, the 2021 Facility Design Award for the city’s new community center and the COVID-19 Engagement Award.
Last year, the city marked a milestone achievement in the recreation program with the opening of a new community center, only for it to be closed two weeks later because of COVID-19.
“It was a major disappointment, says Sterling Heights Parks and Recreation Director Kyle Langlois. “But certainly something we knew needed to be done.”
“We had already started to see great tremendous participation in our programs, and had even evolved a number of offerings based on resident feedback,” says Langlois. “So many people were looking forward to that moment, and just as we were getting into a good rhythm, it came to a halt.”
The unique design of the city’s new community center is one of the reasons Sterling Heights’ Parks and Recreation team won mParks awards recently.
Now, the team is focusing on ways to safely open the city’s public spaces, altering the structure of programs and implementing staggered sign-up procedures. Langlois says it’s essential to find ways to continue making the most of recreational facilities, rather than completely closing, and that some of the programs will even continue after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.
“In a time where everything stopped, we had to find ways to keep people engaged and recreating, for their mental and physical health,” he says. “Taking an ‘all or nothing’ approach would have been contradictory to our mission and a disservice to our residents who needed us the most during the challenging times.”
“With the passing of the Recreating Recreation millage in 2016, Sterling Heights residents confirmed city council’s strong commitment to improving and focusing on parks, recreation and sense of place,” said Sterling Heights Mayor Michael Taylor. “We congratulate the entire Parks and Recreation Department on being recognized for their hard work and dedication to creating world-class recreational opportunities for our entire community.”
Here are five ways the parks and recreation team are adapting their programs:
Sterling Heights’ gym facilities at its new community center were proving popular before COVID-19 hit (this photo was taken prior to the pandemic).
“In-person programming is what people have been and are most excited about, from in-person fitness classes to our gym activities,” says Langlois. “Considering the outside temperatures and weather, I believe the opportunity for people to play the sports they love and re-engage with friends and fellow athletes, has been a welcome site for our participants.”
Family gym time is available at the community center for reservation to family members residing in the same household. One member of the household can register to reserve the time, for $5 for an hour-and-a-half, and families are provided with an equipment bag upon arrival containing various sports equipment (basketball, volleyball, futsal ball, pickleball paddles and ball) for use during their designated time.
The program has been popular, with 84 of the 90 sections of family gym time offered so far already filled. With 41 families on a waitlist, Langlois says it’s an initiative the city will continue even after the pandemic.
“Families have gotten to spend quite a bit of time together over the past 11 months,” Langlois says, “and having new ways to enjoy each other’s company, while also staying safe and active in the winter months has made this very successful.”
Ice Rink theme nights
Theme nights at the Dodge Park Ice Rink during February is another way the team hope to keep the community engaged and active.
A Date Night theme on Feb. 13 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. is planned to celebrate Valentine’s Day weekend and costume theme nights (Country Night on Feb. 20 and Disco Night on Feb. 27) are planned. Gift cards to local restaurants will be awarded to the best costumes and registration is currently open through Feb. 14.
The Sterling Basketball League is launching a clinic on Feb. 27 to offer a basketball experience for children while games are not allowed to be played. Players will be taught passing, dribbling, shooting, defense and offensive strategies in a safe and distanced environment. Players will receive their own ball with registration to limit cross contact and spread of COVID-19.
Live Stream Bingo
Each game of bi-weekly bingo, held virtually, features a theme, with participants pre-registering by 12 p.m. the day prior. Players need a device (computer, laptop, tablet) to watch the live stream and a smart phone to play, or a computer with a dual monitor. Bingo cards can also be printed out.
Each Wednesday, Sterling Heights hosts a free e-gaming drop-in play from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Players can register online and meet up on Discord, where lobbies are created for a virtual hang out experience. This month’s game is “Super Smash Brothers: Ultimate”, and this winter there’s a competitive Super Smash Brothers League coming as well, featuring five weeks of head-to-head play followed by a final tournament.