When Tommy Hailey took over the Newton County Recreation Commission in June 1989, the department had six people and was in charge of a handful of parks based out of its office in the Conyers Street gymnasium.
Fast forward almost 25 years, and the NCRC is based out of one of the state’s top facilities at Turner Lake Park, boasts 17 full-time and six more part-time employees, oversees 18 parks and 21 facilities and is a regular host of youth world series events.
That’s the state Hailey leaves the recreation department in as he retires, effective May 3, after handing in his letter Tuesday.
“It’s a good move on my part,” Hailey said. “I think it’s time you get some young people in here who might have some better ideas than I do.”
The Oxford-born, 1971 graduate of Newton County High School was planning on retiring in 2014 after putting in 25 years, but was enticed to move the timetable up a year due to a financial package put together by the Covington City Council.
Hailey is one of four remaining NCRC employees left of the eight grandfathered in from the city back in 1995 to work for Newton County. Therefore, he is still a city employee and is taking advantage of the early retirement package offered by Covington.
“It’s safe to say it would be in my best interest to take this from a personal side, and a family side of it,” Hailey said. “I have mixed emotions about leaving, because we’re right in the middle of the Miracle League field, which has been a passion of mine. Other than the fact the city is offering the early package, I would stay another year.”
The Miracle League field, being constructed at the county’s City Pond Complex, is the latest of many projects added to the recreation department in Hailey’s tenure.
His first project, handed to him right when he walked into the department in the summer of ’89, was the Stone Road Park.
Following that, he worked with former county chairman Davis Morgan, Covington mayor Dr. Bill Dobbs and city manager Frank Turner Sr. on a public parks package for the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax of 1995, which boosted the recreation facilities in the county, expanding park space out of the city to all of Newton.
“Everything was centrally located,” Hailey said. “And that was part of the master plan, to get some parks spread out in the county.”
One park that was still built in Covington was Turner Lake Complex, which would also host the NCRC starting in 1999.
“I heard a person make a comment, ‘We went from the outhouse to the penthouse,’” Hailey said of the move from the small gym offices.
As Hailey and his department were set to move to their new home starting with the 1995 SPLOST, they also moved under the county government, no longer reporting to Dobbs, who hired Hailey back in ’89. However, the two kept a close relationship, along with Hailey and Turner.
“Tommy is just, to me, a good young man,” Dobbs said. “He did an excellent job with the recreation authority, he kept good people around to support him and just ran an excellent program, not only in the state but in the southeast.”
The people Hailey met while working with the NCRC is what he will remember most, both the athletes who once played and now coach there, and the members of the board and governments he worked with in his almost quarter of a century there.
“He’s been tremendous,” NCRC Assistant Director Anthony Avery said. “He was here when I came here in 1995, and he’s done a lot of great things here. I respect him a lot and learned a lot from working for him for the last 18 years.”
Among the biggest memories Hailey will take with him is how he has helped host eight world series, five with Dixie Boys and another three with the Independent Softball Association.
After the first Dixie Boys World Series was held in Newton County in 1993, Hailey and his staff have become a dependable host for the event. The success of those world series have brought more events to Newton County, and will continue to bring the people and finances associated with such activities to the area.
Among Hailey’s cherished memories of leading the NCRC, the one which will surely stand out for him are the times his son, T.J., spent there. This year, T.J. will have been gone 10 years after being involved in a fatal car accident in 2003, but he continues to remain in his father’s thoughts.
“I have a lot of memories of my son, being part of City Pond Park and being part of the recreation park; he even worked here some part time,” Hailey said. “He thoroughly enjoyed that.
“Those are memories that I never will be able to relinquish and let go.”
Newton County will most likely never let go of the footprint the NCRC now has with its first-class facilities and first-class events brought to the area with a large amount of Hailey’s help and guidance.
It is currently unknown what direction the county commission will go in for Hailey’s successor, but the soon-to-be-retired director has his own plans set, including continuing on the Dixie Boys World Series committee board.
“I’m going to enjoy some time playing golf and doing some things I want to do,” Hailey said. “I’m also going to work some part-time. What I’m not going to be is one that wants to sit at home all the time.”