By Gerhard Schneibel

Although the Sandy Springs Recreation and Parks Department competes with many organizations for children’s attention, its programs are affordable and personal, say two of its newest staffers.

The department recently hired Tommy Eriquezzo and Alan Marks to improve the quality of programming and reduce the cost of participating in sports, Recreation and Parks Director Ronnie Young said.

The youth basketball and soccer programs are down to $25 per child because the city can rely on in-house staff and volunteers, Young said. “We’re doing that simply to try to make the programs more all-inclusive for all the families in the communities.”

The city is seeking grant money to bring down the cost of all programs, he said. “We’re hoping to be able to find others that we can set up and make them as inexpensive as possible.”

That effort comes as families are turning to their local parks for economical recreation at a time when fewer people can afford big vacations and pricey outings.

Eriquezzo was hired as an athletic coordinator, and part of his job is to improve access to athletic programs for all children in Sandy Springs.

“Athletics, that’s my passion,” he said. “We’re not just here for the superb athletes; we’re here for the little guy that wants to play ball.”

Eriquezzo lives in Bremen with his wife, three teenage sons and 7-year-old daughter. He’s also a broadcaster for high school sports there and worked in that city’s Parks and Recreation Department before being hired in September to work for Sandy Springs.

Sandy Springs is a larger, more diverse community than Bremen, a city of about 5,000 people, and youths here have many more options for their free time, Eriquezzo said.

“It’s my job, I feel, to try to offer them something in athletics that’ll keep them coming back,” he said. “I want to offer them something that is fun. That’s the main goal — is for them to have fun.”

Since September, Sandy Springs has put together two new youth basketball programs, nearly doubled the number of youth soccer participants and offered a youth lacrosse clinic. By focusing on kids from about ages 7 to 10, the recreation department is able to provide programs to an underserved segment of the population, Eriquezzo said.

“We made a concerted effort — and it was a big accomplishment as far as I’m concerned — to help lower registration fees,” he said.

Another major asset has been a grant from Friends of Sandy Springs and Kaiser Permanente that Eriquezzo expects will allow 185 children to participate in athletics free this year.

Marks was hired in December to oversee Hammond Park. Formerly a schoolteacher and coach in Peoria, Ill., he moved to the Atlanta area in November and said he’s still getting used to Southern hospitality.

Even before the city institutes its planned upgrades, Hammond Park is “a place the community can come to and get together, enjoy themselves and enjoy their families,” Marks said. “As long as the park is around, the community has somewhere to come, smell the fresh air, and just relax and be a family. With the outlook the way it is now, that’s the way it’s going, so I’m glad to be a part of it.”

Marks described himself as a “go-to guy” who is happy to be working outside, with his hands, in a managerial position. He was in the Army from 1993 to 2001, has a bachelor’s degree in business and education, and hopes to become the city’s recreation director someday.

“My vision, my goal, is to eventually become Ronnie’s successor when he retires, but right now I just need to continue working to support my family and do the best I can do,” he said. “I would like to have more staff, and that will happen; I just have to be patient.”