George Hillsman was a few minutes late for our 3:30 meeting at the Twin Hills Park gymnasium. But that was OK: to George, the kids who take part in Crestview’s recreation program come first.
“I was out there working on the soccer field,” George said. “We’re starting up youth soccer again.”
That was vintage George. Sometimes he just has to do things himself.
“I’ve always been the type who’d never ask my staff to do stuff I wouldn’t do,” he said. “Then, when you ask them to do stuff they’ve seen you do, they won’t be reluctant.”
A 20-year Air Force veteran, George “did a few odd-and-end jobs” before joining Crestview’s Parks and Recreation Department 17 years ago.
“I’ve always loved sports so when the position became available, I applied for it right away, and got it,” he said.
Originally from Detroit, “I didn’t want to work in a car factory” so he joined the Air Force, serving in seven duty stations until fate PCS’ed him to Eglin Air Force Base as his last station. As have so many others, he loved the area and decided to stay in Northwest Florida.
“I couldn’t take my kids back to Detroit,” he said, and so — fortunately for Crestview’s recreation programs — he settled his family here upon separating from the military.
During George’s 17 years with Crestview’s recreation program, he has worked with more than 20,000 kids, many of whom now have kids of their own entering the city’s sports programs.
“The other day I recognized a guy who was registering his kid for spring sports,” George said. “I recognized him because he’d been in our programs. I had the parent and now I got their child!”
This year George has 550 kids playing winter basketball, expects to have 350 kids signed up for youth soccer, and upwards of 1,000 in baseball, which starts in April.
Even while he was still in the Air Force, George Hillsman worked with athletics programs and Air Force youth, including being a sports referee while stationed in Turkey.
“I’m a sports fanatic, so this job was right up my alley,” he said.
For young people, George and his staff are part of what makes the city’s recreation and sports opportunities enjoyable.
“They like us,” Sarai Bonilla said during a break between shooting basketballs at the Twin Hills Park gym with her brothers and friends. “Mr. George is a great guy. He’s always checking up on us. He’s a big fan of my little brothers and me.”
While supervising and coordinating the city’s sports programs is George’s “official” job, like other adult leaders in youth sports, there is a serious “unofficial” side to the profession of working with kids.
“I try to mentor or talk to them,” George said. “I spend time with some of the kids trying to keep them on the straight and narrow. They need someone to talk to sometimes. They can turn bad without guidance.”
As a father of six children and grandfather of four, George knows the importance of being involved in kids’ lives. They, his wife, Kiiya and, of course, sports are his world.
“I just love sports and spending quality time with my wife,” he said. “I always wanted to have my own gym. This is the next best thing. I was lucky enough to come here and make a difference in kids’ lives.”