“John Ketchem came to me and asked me if I would like to do it ... It was co-sponsored by Rim Guidance, the town and the school district”
Bruce Haught Summer Rec program founding coordinator
The Town of Payson-sponsored Summer Recreation Program has a long and storied history of providing the Rim Country’s children with both structure and fun.
Although official records of the program’s origin have not been kept, it has its roots in the mid 1980s when Bruce Haught, then an elementary school teacher and high school coach, jumpstarted the recreational offering as a way to give pre-teens and teens something to do in the summer months.
“John Ketchem came to me and asked if I would like to do it,” Haught said. “It was co-sponsored by Rim Guidance, the town and school district.”
Haught remembers the program attracted only three youths the first week, but he traveled around town espousing the virtues of summer recreation in hopes of bringing in more participants.
Soon after, the summer recreation grew in leaps and bounds attracting throngs of youths suffering the doldrums of a long, hot, uneventful summer.
During the first few years, Wendy Joe worked as Haught’s assistant, but after she left to attend college, Chuck Hardt, a PUSD physical education teacher and coach, replaced her.
Haught believes having two teachers and coaches run the program put parents at ease and added structure and discipline
“And also it was free, that helped make it popular,” said Haught.
The program, which included mostly indoor games, recreational activities and arts and crafts, was originally held in old Payson High School gymnasium, but but later moved to the gym at Rim Country Middle School.
For the most, part the program ran smoothly, but during the Dude Fire in 1990 it was shut down because the gym was used as an evacuation location for those fleeing what was then the largest fire to ever occur in Arizona.
Haught and Hardt, however, stayed on at the gym, helping with the evacuation effort.
Haught led the summer program for 13 years before stepping down.
“It was a great program; some of my best memories are of it,” he said.
About the only real problem the two former educators faced during their tenure was parents who used the program for babysitting.
“Absolutely, and we knew they were just dropping their kids off and leaving,” said Hardt.
“Some (parents) would not be there to pick their kids up when we closed,” said Haught. “It was a problem, but not that big a deal.”
Today, the town-sponsored summer rec program is flourishing, but with a slightly different format.
No longer can children come and go at will as they could in the early days, and to participate, parents must register their children for each weekly session and pay a $30 fee.
“This is not a drop-in type of camp,” stresses Town Recreation Leader Mary Wolf.
“We want them (the children) there at 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
“When parents drop off late and pick up early, it puts a cramp in our ability (to do certain programs).”
Also, the children are often taken on field trips, which was not an activity during Haught’s and Hardt’s tenure.
Among the field trips the groups have participated in are to Sawmill Crossing for movies, to Rim Country Lanes for bowling, Green Valley Park and to the library.
At GVP, the children participate in a “water day” and on another trip did a version of “The Amazing Race.”
“Usually there is only one field trip per week, but we have more in the works,” Wolf said. “The camp counselors see what the kids want and like to do and go with it.”
For the program, tables have been set up in the RCMS gym for both games and crafts. Children also play a variety of games including kickball, soccer, tumbling and basketball.
This summer, unlike earlier years of the program, children have been able to take advantage of the free lunch program at RCMS.
“It could be going away next week and we will have to ask parents to send a lunch with their kids,” Wolf said.
While participation numbers were not limited in the early years, today each session of the Summer Recreation Camp is capped at 25 children.
Wolf says the camp now averages about 20 children per week, most of whom are 6 to 11 years of age.
No programs will be held July 2 to 6 and 16 to 19, due to “staff and facility availability,” said Wolf.
Fore more information about the summer program, go to www.paysonrimcountry.com/ ParksRec.aspx.