The City of Columbia Recreation department needed a new leader. They wanted someone who understood the struggles of growing up in an underprivileged home, someone who knew Columbia and its citizens and someone who could take charge in the community.
How could they not pick Carey Rich?
“I can talk about it from a former perspective, because I lived it,” said Rich, who’s just over a month into his position as superintendent of recreation . “When I interviewed, I was asked, ‘This is not about Carey Rich, it’s about, how do you help our kids?’ How do I take my experience, as a guy that grew up in the inner city, in a single-parent home, that was always in the parks playing basketball, how do I map out a plan for 50 more Carey Riches that are in the same position I was?’
“I want to be able to tell all of them that I did it, and they can, too.”
Unofficially on the job since December, Rich had the “interim” removed from his position in April. Since, he’s been using the connections he’s made over decades of being involved in the Columbia community to build interest and sponsorship for the city’s recreation department.
Friday night, local TV anchors Corey Miller and Reggie Anderson will coach in the Badges and Parks Basketball Alliance, where 10 Columbia police officers will team with youths aged 13-17 for a game at Greenview Park. Children who live 10 minutes from South Carolina’s campus, yet have never been on campus, will be able to take several tours this summer, ending with an academic component. Mayor Steve Benjamin’s Drills and Skills camps will take place in June and July to help children develop in a variety of sports. Partnerships with Coca-Cola and Bojangle’s are in the works.
“I’m in charge of programming, building partnerships, bridging the gap from local business owners to our kids, and all of it centers around making sure our kids have a safe and productive environment that’s going to allow them to grow,” Rich said. “So many people have shown their willingness to help.”
It’s a natural progression for a man that grew up in Columbia and became one of its brightest stars on the basketball court. An all-star state champion at C.A. Johnson High, Rich went to Western Carolina for a year before transferring to USC. A two-time captain under coach Eddie Fogler, Rich was tagged with the nickname he’s still known as – “Mayor.”
“In coach Fogler’s third week in Columbia, he came to me and said he’d heard everybody talking about Carey Rich, and I wasn’t even the best player on my team that year,” Rich said. “But he named me captain, rare for an underclassman, and when I started playing for him, I realized how he valued leadership and how much he saw I could do it.”
As the Gamecocks’ point guard, Rich was always going to be leading on the court, but Fogler wanted more. Be the guy your teammates look to off the court. Be an extension of Fogler on the floor. Benched by appendicitis for a few games during his career, Rich listened to Fogler encourage him to help from his chair; he did and it paid off when he got back in uniform.
“It’s easy to be a leader when things are going fine,” Rich said. “When you’re forced to lead a group of people that you’re not having a lot of success with, but your coach is relying, depending and counting on you to have those guys ready to go every single day, that ain’t easy.
“What I’ve been able to do is translate that experience as a captain on a basketball team to how I operate here. I want to have my staff excited about their work.”
Rich heads a staff of around 50 and has already gotten USC involved. Parks and Recreation Director Randy Davis wasn’t surprised by the immediate success.
“Carey understands the value of helping others, and he demonstrated that by leading by example,” Davis said. “He was a former USC basketball player, point guard at that, and he truly knows how to lead and how to motivate others. In addition to that, he’s a hometown kind of hero that the community looks up to and he brings instant credibility to what we’re trying to do and build here.”
Programs are in place for summer but Rich wants more. There’s always something that can be done to help every child in the area.
“I stay closely connected to sports, and now I get to do it in the same area of the city I grew up in and impact our youth in the same area,” he said. “This is my dream job.”
Follow on Twitter at @DCTheState