VERNON -- Brent Gibson knows what it takes to run Vernon's recreation department.
"Get more kids involved in the program, better facilities and just better morale," Gibson said Monday afternoon, listing his priorities to improve the city's sports program.
Gibson, of Sunny Hills, was hired at City of Vernon as Recreation Director in early December last year. Although the City struck out several times on retaining someone in the position in the past year, Gibson anticipates his tenure is a homerun.
In a few months, the 32-year-old Detroit native and firefighter has reached out to local businesses in an effort to reestablish credibility and trust in Dixie sports. Gibson announced Monday on Facebook that baseball, softball and T-ball registration had been cut in half, dropping to $25. It's the final week to register.
Registration will be open Saturday 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. noon at the Sportsplex. Birth certificate is required. If you have already registered at the full-price rate, you will be issued a refund, according to the department's Facebook announcement. Registration is also available during regular business hours throughout the week at City Hall, 2808 Yellow Jacket Drive.
He said more than $2,500 has been raised in local sponsorships to cover the loss in full registration fees. The goal is to raise $5,000 and register as many children as possible.
"You go back four years ago, we had 150 kids here," Gibson said. "You go back to last year's total ... it was like the 75."
And, this year, only about 30 children have registered.
"I'm trying to make Vernon great again, better," he added. "We're trying to get those kids back here. We've got the facilities for it."
President of the Recreation Board and Vernon native Timothy Garner, 32, says Gibson is on track to fulfill many of the goals set out by previous board presidents.
"It seems like it's going in the direction (the last board president) was fighting so hard to get it there," Garner said. "Seeing Brent involved and seeing how much he helped the last two recreation directors and volunteering his time, I'm really excited to see where it goes."
"I think he'll go above and beyond," he added.
Gibson also announced on Facebook his plans to use $100,000 in grants through the Florida Recreation Development Assistance Program for improvements at Vernon Sportsplex, located across from Vernon High School, 3232 Moss Hill Road. Those improvements include: new sidewalks, LED lighting, pole barn, toddler playground and bathroom renovations.
With bids ready for advertisement, Gibson expects the improvements to be completed by July 4.
As the season approaches, the department is also preparing to build a co-ed basketball teams which has already secured facilities at Vernon High and Vernon Middle schools.
Finally, Gibson said he is looking to revamp a regional tournament team. The team, once called CRVW (Caryville, Redhead, Vernon and Wausau), will comprise of Vernon, Ebro and Wausau and called Washington County.
"We're going to retain that franchise again," "When tournament play starts, we can come together -- the three cities -- and form one team for district and state levels."
Torrential rainfall Monday had left fields at the Sportsplex flooded in parts. Short, winding rivers emptied into large puddles of murky water that appeared red from the clay dirt the fields are made of.
Like any other sports enthusiast, none of that stopped seven-year-old Parker Gibson from owning the park. His football soared rather high as it spun several yards from his fingertips to his dad's chest.
"I want this program to be right," Gibson said, reflecting on the early 2000s when the program held a state championship game and the football teams went deep into the state playoffs. "I want these kids to actually have a program they can grow up in and when they get to the next level, be prepared for it."
How to register:
What: Register for baseball, softball and T-ball
Where: Vernon Sportsplex across from Vernon High School, 3232 Moss Hill Road; City Hall, 2808 Yellow Jacket Drive
When: Saturday, 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. (at Sportsplex); 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (City Hall)
Details: Fee is $25. Birth certificate required. For more information, call Brent Gibson, 850-258-9492. Deadline is Saturday.