BRIDGTON — Gary Colello, a 2005 graduate of Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School and former resident of South Paris and Otisfield, was recently named the Maine Recreation and Parks Association announces the 2020 “Dr. Bill Eckart” Young Professional Award winner. The award is named for Dr. William Eckart, a former professor of recreational management at the University of Maine Machias. Colello is the first Oxford county recreation director to be honored with the award in 20 years.

Oxford Hills graduate Gary Colello has been Bridgton’s Recreation Director since 2012. Also pictured, Bridgton Deputy Town Manager Georgiann Fleck. Supplied photo

“Colello is being recognized by his professional peers with this award,” said the MRPA in a statement. “He has demonstrated outstanding leadership for the residents of Bridgton by developing, coordinating and implementing recreational opportunities for all ages.”

Colello has been with the Bridgton Rec. Department since 2012. He attended Plymouth State College where he earned Bachelor of Science and Master’s degrees in Athletic Administration. When he finished college he envisioned a future working in a professional sports organization with lots of travel. But on a whim he applied for a job locally and when he landed it never saw found good reason to move on.

“Bridgton has been a supportive community to work for, and honestly running its rec. programs does not even feel like a job,” Colello said. “Every day is different.”

Even in the current environment where COVID-19 has cancelled many community and sports programs Colello has new and different challenges to meet. Lighter demands have provided opportunities to review current and past initiatives. And an anticipated “new normal” requires new levels of creativity to support Bridgton residents.

“We are very focused on how to resume sports in a way that includes spectatorship that respects social distancing,” Colello said. “Athletics are on hold for now but we expect we will be able to move forward with some type of schedule this season.”

Colello said the highest priority for Bridgton is to maintain safe and supportive programs for kids. He hopes to expand the community’s day camp and start it a bit earlier this summer. With most adult activities on hold there will be more space available to include more, smaller groups for kids’ activities.

He expects Bridgton’s kids’ camp will be fully staffed this summer. Units will be separated by age for Kindergarten through second grace and then third through sixth grade. They will utilize the town hall and ice rink, which will allow more open-air activities even during poor weather.

“We are still waiting on guidance from the state,” Colello said. “But we’ll be ready to go when the second stage of reopening the state starts in June. Social distancing has been hard on the kids. We want to help parents help them get through. Many weeks have already filled up but we will continue to register campers.”

Bridgton’s summer day camp is only one of the programs that Colello has launched as the town’s Rec. Director, bringing it back five years ago after at least a 10-year hiatus. He also worked to increase adult and seniors activities like exercise classes and seasonal field trips.

“Bridgton always had recreational sports,” Colello said. “But overall all it was pretty low key. I wanted to improve experiences and social time for everyone in the community, young and old.”

So while adult programs have been halted to follow social distancing safety protocols Colello has looked for ways to keep the community engaged. The MRPA has facilitated weekly Zoom conferences to give recreation directors across the state opportunities to innovate and compare notes.

Zoom technology has allowed senior classes and activities to continue during the pandemic period. Zumba and other classes have moved to online schedules, allowing for 40 or so minutes of activity followed by social sessions so community members can stay connected.

Colello has also started a Thursday night family trivia program using Kahoot, an educational and training activities portal. Each week about 15 families participate via Zoom. Colello and his staff put together all the questions and answers, making sure that players of all ages get a chance to compete.

“It’s been a lot of fun to put trivia night together,” he said. “I’m working on season-ending prizes for everyone, gift cards for local businesses to help get customers back to them when social distancing ends.”

Colello lives in Bridgton with kids Hailey, 15, and Myles, 7, and Nala, the family dog.


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