As a young athlete, Katelin Cooke spent her childhood watching her father, Tim, pursue a career in athletics, working as the athletic director for Lenoir Parks and Recreation.
This year, Cooke, 29, of Granite Falls followed in his footsteps.
Cooke was hired in January as the interim athletic director and parks manager for the department, and in April the city announced that she was hired permanently.
"I grew up in and around parks and rec. I loved it," she said. "It was a dream as a kid to be able to just play sports all the time."
Cooke grew up in Granite Falls and graduated from South Caldwell High School, then went to the University of Georgia for one year, until she came home and transferred to Lenoir-Rhyne University. She majored in religious studies but ended up working for four years at the Lenoir Aquatic and Fitness Center as the senior aquatics specialist, maintaining the pools and managing the lifeguards.
She said that after she heard that Doug Main, the athletic director for the Parks and Recreation department at the time, was leaving his position in December, she spoke to Parks and Recreation Director Kenny Story about the position.
“I was kind of looking for a little bit of a change,” she said. “And I grew up around athletics and I loved athletics, so I wanted to explore different parts of parks and recreation.”
Cooke said as the athletic director she mainly manages youth athletics: baseball, softball and basketball. She said the recreation center hosts baseball and softball in the spring and the fall, and then there are both summer and winter basketball leagues. Officials hope to add volleyball there too, she said.
The other part of her job as parks manager includes responsibilities such as checking on playgrounds and greenways to make sure everything is up to code and safe, Cooke said. She and Story work together to make sure everything runs smoothly and that residents have safe access to city facilities.
Starting as the new athletic director and parks manager during the pandemic has been both a blessing and a curse, Cooke said.
“It’s been a blessing in the sense that it’s kind of been a slow start, and I’ve been able to like ease into the position,” she said. “Numbers are a little bit lower this year; it makes it easier to get to know everyone.”
She said the challenges have mainly been trying to abide by COVID-19 regulations and working around state and local mandates. Safety is the top priority, she said, but it has been tough sometimes trying to satisfy kids and parents.
Although her job has come with specific challenges, she said she loves the work she does.
“I love working with the kids playing sports. I love getting to know the parents and just being a part of this community,” she said. “When you’re in a job like athletic director, you just get to know so many people, grandparents, parents and kids. So it’s just really exciting.”
Reporter Carmen Boone can be reached at 828-610-8723