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City parks veteran helps sports facilities, programs thrive

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Mark Jones, an Edinburgh native, is director of sports programs and athletic facilities for the Columbus Department of Parks and Recreation. The 38-year-old has worked for the parks department for 16 years. (Joe Harpring | The Republic)
Mark Jones, an Edinburgh native, is director of sports programs and athletic facilities for the Columbus Department of Parks and Recreation. The 38-year-old has worked for the parks department for 16 years. (Joe Harpring | The Republic)

When Ben Wagner took over as Columbus’ director of parks and recreation three years ago, he went to meet with Mark Jones and noticed a quote on Jones’ desk:

“Excellence is acceptable. Perfection is the goal.”

“When I read that, I thought ‘Hey, those are some high standards,’” Wagner said. “As I’ve gotten to know him and his crew, those are his goals. They really strive for excellence every day.”

“What he’s done over the years to grow his programs in athletics has been remarkable. It’s been pretty neat to work with him.”

The Jones file

Who: Mark Jones

Title: Director of sports programs and athletic facilities for Columbus Parks and Recreation

High school: Edinburgh

College: Franklin

Age: 38

Family: Wife, Michelle, and children Chandler, Trevor and Lily

Columbus has brought in about $10 million a year for the past 10 years from sporting events scheduled through the parks and recreation department. When it comes to credit for that accomplishment, plenty of fingers point to Jones.

Jones, 38, has been with Columbus Parks and Recreation for 16 years and is currently the director of sports programs and athletic facilities. He works to schedule tournaments such as this week’s USSSA Baseball World Series and makes sure the playing fields are in top                   condition.

“He’s very organized, and he’s very well-versed in sports and has been a key player in making the contacts with some of the different sporting organizations that have decided to bring their tournaments here,” said Chuck Wilt, who was parks director for 33 years before retiring three years ago. “He’s been an excellent supervisor of all the sports programs. He believes in providing first-class facilities. Columbus has been able to land all these big tournaments and as a result has made millions of dollars for the city.”

Jones, an Edinburgh native, began working for the parks department part time as an adult basketball supervisor while a student at Franklin College. After graduation, he was sports coordinator for several years before becoming sports manager.

“I went to Franklin originally to be a teacher, but I got away from that,” Jones said. “I wanted to be in a field where I could work with kids, so I switched my degree from teaching to physical education/recreation.”

Now, Jones works with more than 20 user groups, including the visitors center, sports council, local schools, Express soccer, Columbus Youth Soccer, Columbus Softball Association, Babe Ruth Baseball, Columbus Youth Hockey, Lincoln Center Figure Skating Club, Elite Speedskating and broomball.

“The best part of the job is just working with all the different user groups,” Jones said. “I’ve met some very nice people over the years and developed some great relationships. After the tournaments are over with, the people who have been on these user boards for years that aren’t anymore, we’re still friends. It’s a great community to work in.”

Jones has been working with Jim Dietz at the visitors center on the USSSA Baseball World Series, which begins today and continues through Sunday at Lincoln and Clifty parks.

“He’s really good with people and has a great way of selling our community for these sporting events,” Wilt said. “He’s worked well with the visitors center. Without the visitors center, we couldn’t attract all these tournaments. Without the parks department, we couldn’t provide all the great facilities. It’s a great partnership. It’s a great example of how everybody comes together.”

Jones is quick to point out the effort of his staff of 10 full-time and 10 to 15 part-time workers.

“Without these outstanding individuals and other wonderful individuals within the Columbus Parks and Recreation Department, I could not do my job and do what I love,” Jones said. “What I figured out early in my professional career is that you are only as good as the people around you. We have an outstanding team at the Columbus Parks and Recreation Department.”

Jones said athletics facilities supervisor Travis Tindell deserves much of the credit.

“His leadership with the athletic facilities crew has been outstanding,” Jones said. “He and I work together on the schedules, and he makes it happen out there. I can’t talk enough about how good our athletic facilities team is.

“I do a lot of the behind-the-scenes stuff,” he said. “I have a crew that does a lot of the dirty work for us.”

The sports facilities in Columbus are considered among the best in the state and Midwest.

“We are very proud at what we have here in Columbus,” Jones said. “Our local teams and players get to play on top-notch facilities, as well as all the tournament teams. We have sports organizations knocking down our door to schedule their tournaments at our facilities.”

“People say sports facilities in Columbus are some of the best in the nation,” Wilt said. “That’s something Mark should feel good about. He’s done a great job.”

Jones said the most enjoyable part of his job is seeing kids and adults with smiles on their faces while participating in one of the many department programs or activities.

“We are so much more than a tournament site,” Jones said. “We give that little extra effort at everything we do. It’s known as the ‘Columbus Experience.’”

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