City of Houston Parks and Recreation Department Director Jim Root organizes youth basketball league schedules last week at the city hall.

As he tackles his various and numerous duties, City of Houston Parks and Recreation director Jim Root feels there’s one aspect of his job that always requires special focus.

“Communication is the real key,” Root said. “There are a lot of people involved in what I do, so it’s very important to have good communication skills.”

After retiring from a career with the Missouri Department of Transportation, Root began working as Houston’s parks director in 2005. His duties include overseeing maintenance and upkeep of the city’s parks, pool, and storm shelter, and he at times even fills in as an office worker at the City Hall.

But Root’s primary job is conducting the city’s vibrant youth sports programs, a year-round task that includes organizing competition and practice in baseball, basketball, softball and soccer leagues for kids at many age levels. Participation in Houston’s leagues is open all comers.

“We open the doors to all the kids we can get,” Root said. “Lots of kids from other communities participate.”

Currently, Root is overseeing the annual youth basketball leagues, which he helped start during his first year on the job. With third and fourth-graders currently playing games and practicing in the middle school gym and fifth and sixth-graders at the high school, the leagues draw participants mainly from Houston and points south, while Licking offers leagues that cater to residents from that community and north.

A league for children ages 4 through the first grade in Houston completed its second season in December.

The magnitude of youth sports sometimes goes unnoticed, but it’s evident by the fact that more than 200 youth basketball games will take place in Houston this year, not including season-ending tournaments. With dozens of teams involved (including players from Cabool, Winona, Mountain View, Mountain Grove and even as far away as Ava), the resulting influx of people on a given game day translates into a significant economic impact, as many of the hundreds of parents, relatives and friends who accompany the players inevitably shop and eat while in town.

“We’re looking at about 500 or 600 people coming in each Saturday,” Root said. “We guarantee everyone two games each day, so they stay for a while. I try not to space the games too far apart for teams that travel a long way, but they’re here for at least a couple of hours between games and they have to kill some time in some way.

“That definitely adds to the sales tax collected by the city, and to sales at local eateries and stores. You can’t measure it, but it’s there.”

To make the basketball league run, Root brings in numerous people to help as referees, bookkeepers, timekeepers and general supervisors at each venue. Along with scheduling hundreds of games and even more practice sessions, coordinating all the help requires Root to navigate a heap of logistical considerations.

“It encompasses about 30 people as helpers,” he said. “We use school teachers as supervisors, and kids do a lot of the bookkeeping and running the clocks, and we put one adult and one student on the floor as referees.

“It takes great cooperation between us and the school, because we have to deal with school officials to get permission to use the gymnasiums, especially for all the practice times.”

The size and success of Houston’s youth basketball operation means some really long days for Root. Last Saturday was opening day of youth hoops competition and 27 games took place – the first began early in the morning and the last finished at night. Leading up to the big day, Root knew what to expect.

“That will be a 15-hour day by the time it’s all said and done,” he said. “I’ll start early, and I won’t be able to shut everything down until everyone leaves after the last game, which won’t be until sometime after eight-o-clock.”

While he technically works for a nine-member city parks board, Root also answers to the city council. He gets help each summer from one employee, and year round from the city’s public grounds department (whose workers mow playing fields and park grounds, and do lots of repair work to buildings and other facilities), but much of what he does on a daily basis is hands-on, and it’s up to him to make it happen.

Root’s city job isn’t the only thing that keeps him busy. He is also pastor at a Houston church and runs an alpaca business along with his wife, Connie. He is also a member of the Houston school board. But having so much on his plate hasn’t stopped him from pursuing expansion and improvement of Houston’s parks programs and facilities. Several years ago, Root helped add new dugouts to the city’s baseball fields, and he’s currently spearheading the construction of a multi-field soccer complex off of Industrial Drive.

“We definitely had a need for these fields,” Root said, “and with great cooperation from the landowner, we’ll have it done soon.”

Thanks to funding through a grant, Root helped outfit the city’s baseball fields with new, more efficient lighting a few years ago. With the help of sponsorships he secured last year from Landmark Bank and Progressive Ozark Bank, the fields will this spring sport new, remotely controlled scoreboards.

“It’s really going to be a great enhancement,” Root said. “I can’t wait to see them go up.”

Root tries to make the price of participation in youth sports as reasonable as possible. The cost to play basketball this year was $25 per player, which includes a team jersey.

“The only way I could do that is we have 30 sponsors for basketball this year,” Root said. “Basketball is the only sport we get sponsors for, but the cost is there. For a six-week league, it costs almost $1,000 each game day, including paying all the officials, supervisors and everyone else who helps. We only charge spectators two dollars to come in, so sponsors help offset the cost.”

While it’s not necessarily quantifiable, the impact of Houston’s youth sports programs is at least significant. Root figures that from Houston alone, about 180 kids play in a typical season of baseball and soccer, and close to the same in basketball.

With those numbers in mind, it’s easy to see why Root is aware of the importance of communication.

“When you run a program of this size, you’re never going to make everyone happy,” he said. “But you always want to try to do what’s best for the whole, always try to do better, and not be satisfied with where you’re at, but see where you can improve.”

“For a community our size, I think we have good programs.”

This is the first installment in a series that will focus on the duties of City of Houston employees. The series will not have a schedule, but articles will appear periodically.

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