BROOKE KINNEY                                                         MARIYA PABST                                

Director of Recreational Services, Mark Hecht

Director of Recreational Services, Mark Hecht

Augustana’s Recreational Services department is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. The department was created in the fall of 1988, with the opening of the Elmen Center in February 1989. Recreational Services has catered to students for 25 years, providing outdoor activities, intramural sports, different exercise programs and activities and Late Nights.

Mark Hecht, the director of Recreational Services, has been in the position since its beginning.

“Bill Gross and Jim Bies contacted me about applying for the position, and they approached Carmen [Hecht] for applying for the head volleyball coach,” Hecht said, admitting they turned down the positions at first. When Gross asked the couple a second time, they agreed and moved to Sioux Falls.

Both Mark and Carmen graduated from Augustana: Mark in 1984 with a degree in physical education, a minor in business and a coaching certificate, and Carmen in 1987 with a Health, Physical Education and Recreation (HPER) major and a coaching certificate.

“I was a senior when she was a sophomore,” Hecht said, “and we went on two dates before I graduated.”

Mark and Carmen married in the summer of 1987 after Carmen graduated, and they accepted jobs in Aurora, Neb. as teachers and coaches. Just over a year later they were back at Augustana.

Before the building of the Elmen Center, the weight room was in the basement of the Mortenson Center in a small corner of the wrestling room just bigger than Mark’s current office. The so-called weight room was only large enough for a freestanding bench press and a universal machine to do leg presses and lat-pulls with. Cardio equipment consisted of two stationary bikes.

The gym was where the theatre stage is now, only large enough for one basketball court.

“That was it,” Hecht said.

Before Recreational Services was established, UBG was in charge of intramural events on campus. According to Hecht, there were only four intramurals offered for students: men’s flag football, 5-on-5 basketball, co-ed volleyball league and a co-ed softball league. Recreational Services now offers 34 different leagues and tournaments throughout the school year.

In the department’s first year, about 30 staff members were employed. Today, Recreational Services has over 130 employees working as leadership staff, supervisors, lifeguards and referees.

Hecht said his goals for the department after accepting the position were to assess and learn. He toured other campuses to view facilities and learn about intramurals and different services, as well as conducted a survey of current Augustana students asking what they wanted in a recreational department and facility.

“It had certainly helped that I had been a student here at Augie,” Hecht said. “I was very aware of a lot of the need.”

Eleven years after Mark joined Augustana as staff, 57 percent of the student body was involved in intramurals. In the 2012-13 school year, a record 79 percent of students participated, a number that is higher than many intramural programs throughout the country.

Hecht said students are not only more involved in intramural activities, but there has also been an increase in weight room usage. In 2000-2001, the weight room was used 13,027 times, recorded each time a student signed in to use the weight room. Last year, there were 22,774 weight room visits by students and faculty.

Recreational Services plays a big role in student life at Augustana, providing staff for the weight room, pool and front desk of the Elmen to help students with a variety of services.

With over 130 staff members, many being work-study positions, the department creates different teams of employees, allowing each team to focus on different aspects of Recreational Services. The seven teams this year are Aquatics, Fitness, Group Fitness, Intramural Blue, Intramural Gold, Promotion and Recruitment.

In addition to student staff, four other positions have been created since the first year of Recreational Services. Carmen joined staff as a part-time recreation coordinator after two years as head volleyball coach and HPER instructor. The other three positions added within the last 25 years include a Learn to Swim coordinator, Outdoor Program coordinator and intramural coordinator.

Recreational Service’s calendar of events this year has a birthday theme, which includes fun historical facts and pictures, including one of Mark and Carmen the first year of Recreational Services.

Mark said a project they’ve been working on is going through all the pictures on file of alumni and current staff, in order to share the photos at the staff luncheon hosted by Recreational Services after the Viking Days parade on Saturday.

“It’s been fun to look through all those pictures of staff,” Hecht said.

Looking ahead at the next 25 years, Mark said where he’ll be all depends on the Lord, but goals for the Elmen Center and the department include the addition of an indoor rock climbing wall and more space for cardio equipment in the weight room.

On the last 25 years: “I just have all positives,” Hecht said.