Bridgton recreation director moving on

Tom Tash

Tom Tash

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

After nearly three years on the job, Bridgton Recreation Director Tom Tash is moving on. He’s getting married in a month to his fiancée Emma Holley, and they need to relocate to the Augusta area to allow her to take over her mother’s hair salon from her sister, who is expecting.

Tash has accepted a position as marketing manager for Schooner Estates. His last day will be Saturday, when he will be on hand for the Grand Opening of the Kendall and Anna Ham Recreational Complex, or BRAG fields.

“There’s nothing more rewarding for a recreation director,” said Tash, “than to watch people enjoying themselves in their chosen recreational pursuit, knowing how much logistical planning and hard work it took beforehand to make it happen.” When he leaves Bridgton, his fondest memories will be of seeing people thrill to the sight of fireworks the night before the Four on the 4th Road Race, or watching crowds gather for the Festival of Lights Parade, he said.

And in the case of the BRAG fields, which took 12 and a half years of hard work by countless dedicated volunteers, “I wanted to make sure I was there to celebrate their work,” he said.

On Tuesday, Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz praised Tash for his leadership on behalf of the town’s recreational programs, and wished him well. Advertising for his replacement has begun, and the town hopes to have a replacement hired by the end of August, if not sooner.

Selectmen agreed with a recommendation by Chairman Paul Hoyt to have the job description for the position amended to once again have the recreation director responsible for overseeing operations at the Salmon Point Campground. When former longtime Director Phil Gutekunst retired, Berkowitz took over oversight responsibility for the campground. But Hoyt said the town needed someone who could visit there routinely during summer months to make sure things were running smoothly, and the board agreed.

Looking back

At age 27, Tash already has over 12 years in the recreational field, beginning as a junior in high school working for his hometown of Lincoln’s recreation department. “I’ve never done anything else,” he said. After receiving his degree in recreational management at the University of Maine in Machias, he spent four years working as a recreational programmer for the city of Portland. He started work in Bridgton on Sept. 14, 2010.

And while he remains passionately devoted to recreation, he said Tuesday he looks forward to pursuing another interest, that of graphic design and website development. While at Bridgton, he did a complete redesign of the town website, which went live last summer and has received positive feedback from residents.

“I enjoyed looking at what the town had to offer, and how to showcase that,” said Tash.

On Tuesday, Selectmen joked that they may be seeing him back in Bridgton someday — as Berkowitz’s replacement. Tash just smiled, and told the board how much he appreciated all the support the town and its residents have given him.

“I’m really going to miss Bridgton. It’s been close to three years, and every moment has been enjoyable. And the support has been incredible.”

Take for example just recently, when he had to punt kick just three days before the softball season began. Softball, along with swimming and basketball, are Bridgton Recreation’s three core programs, and Selectmen had decided its teams would not be able to play on the BRAG fields, because they just weren’t ready for constant use.

Tash called Cap Ripkin League President Larry Carter, and Casco Recreation Director Beth Latsey, and they both went to work with him to reschedule the games to the Harmon Field. In the end, he said, all agreed that Selectmen had made a good call; while the baseball fields did have enough grass for play, the softball fields were just too patchy.

“We’ve had to put out a few fires,” said Tash. “People are passionate about recreation, and they’re passionate about their kids. It’s always an effort to please everyone.”

Bridgton’s $80,000 annual recreation budget demands creativity to meet the public’s needs, he said. The budget for next year is $86,000.

“It’s in a good place now,” Tash said of the funding. It’s been a transitional few years for the baseball and softball programs, he said, because many parent volunteers had transitioned out of involvement as their children got older.

Tash’s approach since day one, he said, has been to be open-minded to new ideas for programs and look at the big picture — and that approach has paid off. “What recreation means to me is different than what it means to you,” he said. It’s not just being active, although that is certainly an important part of it. Just as often, he said, the benefits of recreation come from exercising the mind, and meeting and socializing with other people in the community.

“A perfect example is the Mad Science Program,” he said enthusiastically. Since bringing the idea for the after-school enrichment class with him from Portland Recreation a year ago, he said, “It’s just been jam-packed every session,” with up to 22 elementary-age children signed up for each of the four six-week sessions.

Tash also is proud to have brought in new programs at the Old Town Hall that have taken off well, such as Tai Chi classes and woodworking.

He sees a bright future for recreation in Bridgton, and knows that someday, he won’t be able to resist the urge to come back, just to see how things have developed. “There’s nothing that’s too outside the box,” he said.

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