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Sep 29

JCPRD’s recreation division gets new superintendent

Posted on September 29, 2022 at 2:26 PM by Becky Burnside

By David Markham

If someone had told Shannon Sonnier when he first started at JCPRD back in 1996 that someday he would be the agency’s superintendent of recreation, he wouldn’t have believed you.

“You might as well have said that I was going to be president of the United States,” Sonnier said. “It would have been unfathomable.”

Sonnier officially stepped into the superintendent’s position on Sept. 12, filling a position left vacant when previous superintendent Rhonda Pollard was promoted to JCPRD’s deputy director on July 18.

“Shannon’s experience and proven leadership qualities are an excellent fit,” said Executive Director Jeff Stewart. “Shannon’s primary responsibilities as superintendent of recreation will be to provide leadership and support to our incredible Recreation Division, which includes children’s services, sports, wellness and corporate games, concession operations, aquatics, 50 plus, and registration.  Additionally, Shannon will work as a member of the JCPRD cabinet and the admin team as we continue our mission to enrich our community through excellence in parks, recreation, culture, education, and public service.” 

Sonnier first came to JCPRD to work on athletic field maintenance in a seasonal capacity in March 1996.  In 2001, he was promoted to a full-time position as a sports park worker. In 2010, he was promoted to the then-new position of sports and facilities south manager in preparation for the opening of the New Century Fieldhouse. He was promoted to assistant superintendent in April 2019.  

A graduate of Kansas State University, Sonnier holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration and marketing. He has also been actively involved in the park and recreation field at the state level, currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Kansas Recreation and Park Association, and he has earned his Certified Professional Recreation Executive certificate, and was the first JCPRD employee to complete the National Recreation and Park Association’s Director’s School.

“The interest (in the superintendent’s position) for me boils down to what makes the parks and rec industry and JCPRD so great; the ability to do servant-based work on a large scale,” he said. “Some people go to work every day, watch the clock, and never feel like they’re making a difference.  I’ve never felt that in all of the years at JCPRD, and I’m incredibly excited to hopefully make a difference at a whole new level.”

His more than a quarter century with JCPRD has helped make him familiar with JCPRD and ready to face the challenges ahead, he said. 

“Having been in the Recreation Division for 26 years, I do believe I understand the importance we have in citizen’s lives,” Sonnier said. “I’ve seen firsthand the passionate work that our staff put into their jobs.  It’s incredibly inspiring.  I hope that I will bring empathy and determination to help our division grow into whatever role serves the community to an even greater degree. As the assistant superintendent, I was able to work on multiple organizational levels.  Our organization is big and complex, and I was able to gain a greater understanding of how all of the pieces fit together over time.” 

Asked what he feels is his biggest accomplishment with JCPRD so far, Sonnier cites ongoing improvements at Mid-America Sports Complex, which recently began their third phase.

“My biggest accomplishment wasn’t only my accomplishment, but the organization’s and staff’s work to create a special place at Mid-America Sports Complex,” he said. “With a significant investment such as what has been done at Mid-America, you have an elevated responsibility to make sure that it is money well spent. We’ve innovated across multiple fronts, including concessions, and how we allocate tournament dates.  We still think we are only scratching the surface as to what a powerful force in the sports world Mid-America will end up being.”

Sonnier is quick to cite his staff as the Recreation Division’s biggest asset.

“Our greatest strength, by far, is the quality and dedication of our staff,” he said. “Want to be inspired?  There is no shortage of opportunities to do so on any calendar date.  We have the potential - and do in many cases -  to impact all ages and demographics.  I’d like to think this servant-based approach to serving the community is what keeps our staff going and within our organization.”

 At the same time, hiring part-time and seasonal workers continues to be one of the division’s and JCPRD’s biggest challenges.

“The Recreation Division has not been immune to the societal challenges that everyone has faced,” Sonnier said. “Our ability to retain and attract part-time workers has impacted the volume and quality of services that we’ve been able to provide this past year.  In turn, our full-time work force has had to step up to the challenge and fill in some of those gaps.  We will need to collectively work to see how these societal changes can be managed in a manner that is positive for our staff and the community that we serve.”

His immediate plan in the superintendent’s position is to do a lot of listening.

“I’ve only been in the position a short time, so my immediate plan is to listen,” Sonnier said. “I want to meet with anyone and everyone, to gain greater understanding as to their successes and challenges. The last thing I want to do is determine and/or dictate what I think is best without the proper knowledge.  I work with many experts in their field, and I just want to begin my new role learning. In addition, I hope to be able see what kind of outside-the-box ideas our staff have. Do they have merit?  Is it something we could beta test and see if it could work? I’m a big fan of taking smart risks; it keeps it interesting and keeps staff’s creative wheels turning.”

Overall, he said, he is humbled by his new opportunity.

“While I may be the superintendent, the work of the Recreation Division will always be the collective ‘we,'’’ Sonnier said. There is no service task that is any more important than another, just different.  I look forward to the coming years and what we can all accomplish together.”