Campus Rec director retires after 37 years

Director of Campus Recreation, Tony Clements, poses for a photo at the ARC. He is retiring after 37 years of working professionally with Campus Recreation. Erica Magda

Director of Campus Recreation, Tony Clements, poses for a photo at the ARC. He is retiring after 37 years of working professionally with Campus Recreation. Erica Magda

By Kristin Shaulis

For many years, the University’s Campus Recreation program has endured challenges regarding new technology, space and an increase in students. For 37 of those challenging years, Tony Clements, director of Campus Recreation, has been a leading force of the program. In other words, he’s pretty much seen and done it all.

“When I was a student here, our main building was Huff Hall,” Clements said. “The program was mainly intramurals. The wellness movement was at least 20 years away, and the only treadmill would maybe be found in a research building somewhere.”

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Clements, who originally began working with Campus Recreation during his freshman year of college, will be retiring at the end of this month. He graduated from the University in 1971.

“I enjoy my job, but I knew once we opened the ARC, the whole challenge of designing the facilities and everything else that went into it would be over,” Clements said.

He added that Campus Recreation has always been popular, yet recently there has been an increase in women who get involved with fitness and physical education.

Clements has also seen the ability of the program to bring the student population together.

“A lot of students come into these facilities, and I think they see themselves mainly as students,” he said. “In reality, they’re different people with different backgrounds and different experiences. At the end of the day, they see themselves mainly as students and that allows them to come together.”

Looking back, Clements sees some of his greatest accomplishments as obvious: ARC, Campus Recreation Center East (CRCE) and the Play Fields.

“I think, in addition to all that, is the ability of the organization to change, to remain current,” Clements said. “What bodes well for the campus is that I’ve always considered it helped by the fact that students have the ideas. Our job, as professionals, is to help students meet the need and introduce concepts to students they might not be aware of.”

The organization has definitely changed. In the 1960s, there was no IMPE, and the concepts of CRCE and ARC were beyond far off.

“I used to tell people that when I was a student here, your workout was to put a basketball under your arm and go around and try to find an open basketball court on campus,” Clements said. “You’d never find one, but just looking for it became your workout.”

After working with the program for so long, Clements has his fair share of stories.

“The best stories, I can’t tell. But anything that you think of that might have happened, has probably happened,” Clements said. “One thing my staff and I have realized is that when people make complaints, no matter what story we hear, we know it didn’t happen that way. Not fully, at least.”

When it comes to retirement, Clements already has some plans for what he’d like to do, including traveling and continuing to pursue his interest in stand-up comedy.

“I plan to do more of that. I’ll have more time to write and have fun with it,” said Clements, who believes comedians can teach people some of the most important life lessons.

“It doesn’t matter how funny you think you are,” he said. “It only matters how funny the audience thinks you are. I think that’s important because often people want to define their own success when it’s actually defined by others and the people around them.”

Although he looks forward to taking on more individual projects where he can decide what he wants to do and how much time to put into it, saying goodbye to people is almost never easy.

“I’ll miss two things most really. First, my relationships with students, both directly and indirectly,” Clements said. “Second, the staff and students have offered me such a great outlet for conversation. I can replace that, but I’m going to have to work very hard to replace it.”

Despite the sadness in leaving, Clements can now be sure his job is complete.

“I enjoy seeing the students enjoy themselves,” he said. “I feel confident now that it’s happened.”

Perhaps the main message Clements hopes to impart with the student population is another concept learned from comedy. “Comedians spend a lot of time in regular life trying to make every moment or situation a better story. By taking something one step or two steps further, it makes it a better story,” Clements said. “Always ask ‘What’s the next step you could take?’ Be progressive and creative. Make it a better story and you will be better for it. It’s like what we did here. We could’ve just built another IMPE. But we said ‘No, we’re going over the top.'”