Dec 15, 2016

Retiring RecSports Director Reflects on His Life and Legacy at UT

Reporting Texas


For more than four decades, Bob Childress has occupied an office in Gregory Gym, with walls covered in snapshots of University of Texas at Austin history and his two diplomas, from 1973 and 1976. Soon, he will take it all down.

Childress plans to retire next spring, on the back end of the year-long celebration of the 100-year anniversary of the Recreational Sports program.

“I don’t know how I can state it any stronger than it has been my whole life,” said Childress, 65. “I’ve been at this point on Earth for nearly 50 years.”

In the RecSports community, some names are synonymous with the program itself. Those include Anna Hiss, the first women’s intramural director, and Berry Whitaker, the founder of the men’s intramural program. Both have  campus recreation facilities named after them. When Childress steps away, his 44 years of service will outnumber the 39 years that Hiss served and match Whitaker’s tenure.

“Bob Childress, to a lot of people from that early-’70s era on to the early 2000s, in a lot of ways was intramurals personified here at UT,” said Randall Ford, RecSports associate director of sport clubs. Childress, Ford said, is the “face of intramurals.”

Childress and his family moved to Houston from Mississippi in 1962. He attended Bellaire High School before visiting UT with his best friend during his senior year. He arrived in 1969 and has seldom left since.

“I didn’t ever want to go anywhere else,” he said. “I always wanted to stay here.”

His resident assistant at Jester dormitory posted a notice about forming a flag football team when Childress was a freshman. He recalls losing his first game 49-0, but ever since that day, he’s been connected to the program.

During his senior year, Childress met a student named Bonita Moon through his work as a resident assistant. He calls it a “strike you in the heart” moment. They married in May 1973, and he began to look for a place to start the next chapter.

He settled on graduate school at UT and obtained a job with the RecSports program as a graduate assistant. He graduated in 1976 with his master’s of education.

That year, while he was looking for jobs, Betty Thompson, then the director of the Division of Recreational Sports, called Childress into her office and lit a cigarette.

“How’s your job search coming?” Thompson asked him.

He explained that he was waiting to hear back on some interviews.

“Well, how would you like to stay at Texas?” she asked.

Childress couldn’t say yes fast enough. “That’s the only job interview I’ve ever had,” he said with a smile.

The intramural program flourished under Childress. The entire division — the intramural program is one seven departments in RecSports — saw improvements, from the $3.2 million renovations to Whitaker Fields in 1980 to the construction of the Recreational Sports Center in 1990, with the help of a $20 per semester student fee. Also, Gregory Gym reopened in 1997 after a $27.6-million makeover that modernized the historic building.

During Childress’ time at RecSports, the program budget grew from $384,050 in 1974-75 to $14 million.  in 2016-17. Eighty-nine percent of students say they participate with RecSports.

There have been six directors of intramurals in the 100 years of the RecSports program. Childress is directly responsible for half of them. Besides serving in the job for 24 years, he hired both Ford and current director of intramurals, Darci Doll.

“Everything I learned as a young professional, I learned from Bob,” Doll said.

Ford called Childress a mentor.

“Bob is responsible for a lot of the professional Randall Ford,” he said. “He would never probably admit that, but he has certainly had a lot of influence on me, and lots of other people in the profession as well.”

Since stepping down as director of the intramural program in 2001, Childress has served as the associate director of constituent relations. He established an alumni relations office where he assisted in identifying past intramural champions and other active participants to invite them to be members of the Friends of RecSports Program. The program connects with alumni and solicits donations for the program. Additionally, he has written a newsletter about past and present program endeavors that is published each semester.

“I unknowingly created a lot of relationships over the years. And the relationships I established were significant enough that they have no problem helping us out,” Childress said.

The Friends of RecSports Initiative uses donations to fund projects and gives back to students in the form of annual scholarships. This year, it will award 15 — two worth $4,000, two worth $2,000 and 11 worth $1,500 apiece. Since 2006, the awards have totaled more than $150,000.

Childress also helps RecSports connect with alumni through the Bob Childress Golf Classic, an annual event since 2010.

More than 70 people participated this year. As the players gathered Oct. 14 under the pavilion at Falconhead Golf Club, Childress sat quietly to the side, fiddling with his camera. Although Childress did not play, he still got out to the course and took pictures.

“I’m tired, but it was a great day out here,” he said when it was over.

Childress said that what he will miss most about RecSports are the people.

“It was such a home to me,” he said. “It’s a family that I’m leaving. But I know they’ll always welcome me back.”