MEXICO — Before Wayne Sevigny became director of the River Valley Recreation Center two years ago, the building was used primarily for roller skating and not much else.
Now, hundreds of children from several towns in the region have been given the opportunity to play sports year-round.
Sevigny, who runs the center with the help of his wife, Cheryl, and volunteer Arthur Macisaac, said when he became the director there were more than 100 children applying for basketball and wrestling. This year, with basketball, wrestling, dance, Zumba and the other programs, more than 500 children have applied.
“There are about 190 kids in the basketball program alone,” Sevigny said. “There’s 17 teams, with different age categories for boys and girls.”
Kevin Gallant, a member on the board for the Recreation Department, as well as a coach for one of the basketball teams, said there are around 60 volunteers who help at the center.
Wayne Sevigny said a majority of them are “ex-coaches, parents and teachers.”
“A lack of good volunteers can make or break a program like this,” Cheryl Sevigny said. “You could get a coach who is ineffective or one that the kids aren’t comfortable with, so they’re not having as much fun. Luckily, we have a great group of volunteers helping out.”
Wayne Sevigny said they even have a coach and former 1,000-point scorer in basketball, Gretchen Errington, volunteering at the center.
There are also volunteers in the snack shack, where Pam Poulin and employee Carlton Merrill help sell and cook food. Poulin said she’s been selling a homemade macaroni and cheese that’s popular.
“You don’t have to play basketball or any other sport here to eat good food,” she said with a smile.
Despite the steady growth the center has seen over the last two years, Wayne Sevigny said he still hasn’t achieved his ultimate goal of getting a new facility.
“That’s my vision right there, getting a new building,” he said. “We’ve been fortunate enough to get a lot of different grants though.”
He said Mountain Valley High School teacher Kristen Provencher recently received a grant for the recreation center.
“I’m not sure Kristen even knows we got the grant, so this may be a surprise to her,” he said with a laugh.
Cheryl Sevigny said she’d like to apply for a grant from the Harold Alfond Foundation, which, according to its website, “helps support charitable causes in the state of Maine.”
In addition to grant money, the Sevignys have held fundraisers and bake sales. Macisaac said an ongoing fundraiser is to help pay for a new stage mat for the end of the court.
“The kids in the fourth to sixth-grade category are a little quicker, a little more aggressive,” he said. “They’ll run down the court and slam into the stage, and it makes your heart stop. We need to get a mat to put there, because safety is a big thing with us.”
The center is also looking for sponsors from local businesses. Wayne Sevigny said they would create sponsorship banners for any businesses that contributed.
“We’re hoping for around” $5,000 or $6,000, he said.
Sevigny said that despite being able to expand the recreation center to include new sports programs, including T-ball, soccer, flag football and baseball, there are still upgrades he’d like to make.
“I’d really like to start a good field hockey program, because we have nothing like that here,” Wayne Sevigny said. “There might be a grant available that’d allow us to do that. Also, we want to put an indoor batting cage inside of the gym.”
Macisaac also announced plans to turn to a former professional major league baseball player, Stan Thomas, to see if he’d be interested in teaching a baseball clinic in the spring. Thomas used to live in Mexico and pitched in the major leagues, including with the New York Yankees in 1974.
“He pitched one year at Fenway Park against the Boston Red Sox, and I think that’s the only time a Mainer could get away with rooting for the Yankees,” Macisaac said.
“I don’t think so!” Cheryl Sevigny said with a smile.
The three are optimistic and believe the center will continue to grow.
“It’s exciting to see the transformation of this place since Wayne became director,” Macisaac said. “He’s breathed new life into the center and really turned it around.”