By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor
When Erich Haas started as Senior Director at the Palisades Recreation Center some 13 years ago his goal was to leave the facility in better shape than it was when he got there.
Check that off the list. The public park off Alma Real Drive is thriving thanks to his vision and he can retire February 13 proud of what he and his staff have accomplished since he arrived in 2008.
“I’ve been a contract tracer since training for that back in July and I probably started making calls in August,” Haas said. “The internet was so spotty at the park that I got transferred to home. It’s crazy. It’s my disaster service work. I was assigned by the county and that’s my full-time job. The City is offering a really great incentive package to retire and I’ll be 60 at the end of January, so it was too good to pass up.”
One of the most rewarding aspects of the job has been watching kids grow up in front of his eyes.
“I’ve seen some children come in at 5 or 6 and then years later I see their picture in the paper as a junior or senior in high school,” Haas added. “That was one of the great things that’s priceless in my mind. There’s a real sense of community in the Palisades and I’m going to miss that.”
Haas has worked in the City parks system for 20 years and he and his wife Sunny will soon be moving out of state—either to the Northwest or the Northeast. They currently reside in Redondo Beach. Haas was born in Texas but lived most of his life in in Louisiana. I moved to California in October 2000 and started working for the city a few months later. He was at Vineyward Recreation Center in South LA before the Palisades.
“I got sent to the Palisades as an acting position and nine months later I became permanent,” he recalled. “It was one of the parks I wanted to go to. The community is very involved, which is both a blessing and a curse. We’ve negotiated the hard problems.”
Perhaps the accomplishment Haas takes the most pride in is winning the Citywide basketball championship in the Minor Division—and a banner hanging in the large gym is the legacy he leaves.
“When I first got there, there were 250, maybe 300 people in the whole sports program, that’s year- round. Our numbers have grown. Palisades was really kind of laughed at around the city. People thought it was just a bunch of entitled kids who can’t play basketball and frankly our level skillwise wasn’t good at all. If there were All-Star tournaments I’d be scared to enter us because we’d have gotten crushed. So we built the program up in a lot of different ways. Winning the City tournament was sweet revenge on all those directors who used to laugh at us. Now we’re a powerhouse and they’re afraid to play us.”
Last spring, over 950 people were enrolled in the Rec Center’s youth sports programs, which included basketball, five-pitch and girls softball, but the season had to be canceled due to COVID-19.
“I’m also proud of the events we’ve put on like Eggstravaganza and Movies in the Park and I hope the next director keeps that tradition going,” Haas said. “We’ve made so many improvements like the fencing of the upper field area, getting the gym floors redone and the office refurbished. I’m the longest lasting director. Most spend six months to a year and move on. I take that with a lot of pride. It’s a great way to go out and finish my career. People who live by park were my eyes when I wasn’t there and I’d like to thank them.”
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