Noe Valley Voice June 2010

Upper Noe Rec Center coach Rachelle "Rocky" Henley poses with her class of 7- to 9-year-old tennis pros. Kneeling (left to right) are Alyssa McDowell and Maggie Altman; standing in back are Megan Lucey, Ella Tang, Simonne Alunan, and Grace Kanaley..
Photo by Pamela Gerard

Sweating the Summer at Upper Noe Rec Center

By Heather World

Parks across the city are bulking up to slim down, due to city budget woes and a staff reshuffling at the Recreation and Park Department. At Upper Noe Valley Recreation Center on Day Street, this means park users will see more activities for kids this summer, but fewer familiar faces in the coaching staff this fall.

On May 11, Mayor Gavin Newsom tripled the number of citywide camp and swim class openings to mitigate the impact of shuttered summer schools, which had been closed by the cash-strapped school district. The summer swell means Upper Noe will hold summer camp for the first time. In addition, the facility will have a full complement of staff, including two new junior camp counselors, says Recreation and Park Department spokesperson Elton Pon.

At the same time, the mayor's office sought to close the city's $438 million budget gap by sending pink slips to 15,000 city employees. Many of the layoffs were rescinded following union negotiations--including some in Rec and Park--but those affected by the employee reorganization remain in limbo, says Rocky Henley, one of four recreation directors at Upper Noe.

"They're setting up all these camps and then we got our pink slips," says Henley, who has been coaching for Rec and Park for 16 years. "It's been tricky."

Directors like Henley could be promoted to a more senior position, she explains, but there will be fewer such positions overall. About 130 employees will be vying for 58 jobs.

Though they haven't been told an exact date, Henley says she and her colleagues expect the ax to fall during the crowded summer schedule, and the timing could not be worse.

"We're going to be angry and upset," she says. "It's going to be a very odd summer, that's for sure."

Part-Time 'Recreation Leaders'

Rec and Park officials lament the job losses, but say the department's reorganization will save money while adding programming. Today, site-based directors like Henley plan and lead everything from clay classes to circuit training to softball, says Pon. The new structure, to be implemented when school starts Aug. 16, will centralize planning and leave teaching and coaching to part-time as-needed "recreation leaders," he says.

"We're moving away from a location-based structure and looking toward a citywide structure," Pon says, adding that the new setup follows successful models in other cities.

Henley says she hopes to make the cut, but if she does, she will miss coaching children. Parents also have told her they will miss having an athletic female role model, she says.

"I still want to be with the children, but I feel like my hands are tied and maybe this is the next step in my life," says Henley, who came to Upper Noe last September. As part of her application to be a coordinator responsible for one program citywide, Henley proposed a plan for girls athletics.

One such part-time program coordinator will be housed at Upper Noe, alongside one full-time facility coordinator who will bring in programming based on the advice of a local community advisory group, says Pon.

That group is likely to have participants from Friends of Noe Valley Recreation Center, established in 2005 and made up of neighbors and park users.

"It does seem worrisome that they're going to cut back on staffing time," says Friends co-chair Molly Sterkel. Her group's primary concern is filling the hours with programming, be that public or private, she says.

"I'd like to advocate for that space being used every hour of the day--whoever rents it," says Sterkel. "We want to make sure it's staffed in such a way to accommodate that, and it's hard for me to judge if that's going to happen."

Meanwhile, the department is looking for creative ways to generate revenue that could include leasing facilities to private recreation services, Pon says.

Douglass Playground over on Douglass Street, for example, is an afternoon latchkey site available for weekend rentals such as birthday parties. The department will look to fill the site's mornings with an outside group that could offer programming independently or partner with Rec and Park, Pon says.

The new hours of operation for all major park facilities will be Tuesdays through Fridays from 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and varied hours on Sundays and Mondays. For more information, go to sfreconline.

To find out about the activities of Friends of Noe Valley Recreation Center, go to


Upper Noe Recreation Center and Park will offer a summer camp for children ages 6 to 9, from June 7 to Aug. 13. The camp, called Summer Art and Sport Explosion, has slots for 24 kids, who will be divided into two groups. The camp is all day, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and an extended day care is available.

Directors Rocky Henley and Tom Sandoval will also host a drop-in Movie and Family Night every Friday, from June 25 to Aug. 13. Sandoval will coach teen basketball while Henley organizes family kickball or football on the field. If the weather turns cold or wet, they'll move everyone inside for a movie and popcorn.

Regular summer programming includes athletics for adults and youth and three classes for toddlers. Register for classes and camp at the facility at 295 Day Street on Saturday, June 5, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; and on Monday through Friday, June 7 to 11, from 4 to 7 p.m. You also may sign up online at Summer camp for 6- and 7-year-olds at the site has already been filled, Henley says.