March Madness and the Final Four of Parks and Recreation

By Michael Klitzing, CPRE | Posted on March 19, 2015

Getting to the Final Four

March Madness! It’s that time of year for filling out brackets, sneaking a peek of the games (not that any of us would do that), and cheering for the underdogs in anticipation of the Final Four. It’s also the time of year to apply for the National Gold Medal Award for Excellence in Park and Recreation Management, our very own version of the Final Four!

The road to the (Gold Medal) Final Four begins with your application. A panel of five esteemed judges, chosen for their considerable experience and knowledge in parks and recreation, review numerous applications and select four finalists in each of seven categories. 

The anticipation builds until the Gold Medal Finalists are announced in May, when being selected is felt as a truly significant accomplishment, an experience as impressive as a college team making the NCAA Final Four! 

Last year, my agency (Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation, Indiana) was selected as a finalist in the Class III category in our very first year of applying for the Gold Medal. This accomplishment helped validate that we were among the most elite park systems in the entire country. We shared the excitement with our Park Board, elected officials, customers, staff, the news media and anyone who would listen. 

The Championship Game

blog_gold_medal_CC_OGSThe identities of the Grand Plaque recipients (Gold Medal winners) are kept completely confidential until the live announcement at the Championship Game (Opening General Session of the NRPA Annual Conference).

Then the unexpected became reality! Our name was called at the conference as a winner! It took our contingent forever to get to the stage to accept the grand plaque. While I am extremely proud of my agency, I have to admit that I never expected us to win the Gold Medal as a first-time finalist. While we may have been caught flat-footed in accepting the Gold Medal, it ultimately provided us with a golden opportunity to elevate our agency and strengthen goodwill within our community.  

The Champion’s Parade and Promoting Our Success

blog_gold_medal_CC_bannersWinning the Gold Medal is like winning the Final Four of the parks world. And like every championship team on the return home, we unveiled three new banners in our community center commemorating our achievement. In addition to the Gold Medal Finalist and Winner banners, we also unveiled one for becoming newly accredited through CAPRA

Our elected officials have been included in all of our celebrations, recognized for their role in supporting parks and recreation. We presented duplicate plaques to the City Council and the Township Board (our tax funding sources), by representatives from the American Academy of Park and Recreation Administration. These representatives provided an outside perspective to the quality of our park system and relayed the importance and esteem of the Gold Medal.  

The Governor declared it “Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation Day in Indiana” on the day the plaque was presented to the City Council! The proclamation was read before the presentation and added to the prestige of the event.

We worked with our local legislators to have the Indiana House of Representatives pass a resolution congratulating Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation for winning the Gold Medal and becoming nationally accredited. We hosted a formal reading of the resolution by the sponsoring Representative at our community center, which was attended by our staff and dignitaries. A clip of the award presentation at the NRPA Annual Conference was played so everyone could witness the grandeur and feel the suspense of the original announcement.

blog_gold_medal_CC_pinsLike many past winners, we have added “National Gold Medal Winner” to all of our new uniforms distributed to employees this year.  At a recent staff meeting, our Director personally presented a Gold Medal lapel pin to each employee thanking them for their contribution and helping make this all possible. They now proudly wear their pins which spark conversations with our customers and the public, proving a great opportunity for our employees to share what being a Gold Medal Winner means to them.

In the spirit of sharing our “championship trophy” with the community, the Gold Medal is now in the process of visiting 13 of our facilities and locations within the community in an impressive display case worthy of the Lombardi Trophy (please forgive the football reference in this basketball-themed post!). This allows us to share the Gold Medal with our friends and neighbors while honoring our tremendous team by showing off with pride what they helped win.

So what are you waiting for? Submit your bracket, I mean your application, TODAY! 


Michael Klitzing, CPRE is the Chief Operating Officer for Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation in Indiana.