ONTARIO — Ontario recreation might be under new leadership, but it’s a familiar face that’s ready to lead the Recreation District into the future.
Ontario native Andrew Maeda officially started as the director of the Ontario Recreation District on Wednesday, following seven years away from his hometown.
“I am born and raised Ontario,” he said.
Maeda graduated from Ontario High School in 2012 and got his degree in exercise science at Western Oregon University in 2016. After that he received his master’s degree in biomechanics from Illinois State University, graduating in 2018, then spent one year as a strength and conditioning coach at the school, working with the football team and the women’s basketball team.
“I liked it. I loved everything about it,” Maeda said. “But it helped me learn that I like helping people and I want to work a little bit more in that realm. I want a family and all of that and D1 athletics is a little bit of a different life. So I opted into looking into more jobs that are close to home.”
Maeda said it was really important for him to be able to get out and experience adulthood outside of Ontario before coming back.
“When I was out there after my first year of full time as a strength coach, I started really liking the idea of starting a family, and what this community did for me and what my family did for me here, I realized that that was kind of the more important thing for me,” Maeda said. “... It became much more about family and this community and what I used to think I didn’t want to be around in Ontario. I realized once I got away from it that it was important and stuff that I really liked.”
In his high school years, Maeda was a dynamic quarterback known for never giving up in tough games. In the Ontario history books, Maeda ranks in the top-10 all time in completion percentage, passing yards and passing touchdowns.
Maeda said he’s excited to go back to an Ontario football game, something he hasn’t seen in three or four years, when his younger brother, Max, was on the team.
“That’s just a special place,” he said.
A history in the department
Like thousands of Ontario kids, Maeda also grew up in the recreation department and found his love of athletics early through that. Andrew and Max Maeda were involved in every recreation department sport they could get their hands on.
“Rec soccer we did. Little league baseball we did in the community,” Andrew Maeda said. “Swimming lessons at the aquatic center. I did a lot of events at the cultural center. We did, obviously judo in the community, that was a big part of the global village here.”
Maeda said the recreation department was especially important to him and his brother, as his father had to work hard to provide for the family. Maeda and his brother needed more things to do during the day to make sure they weren’t just sitting on the couch.
“My dad was a farmer, a single parent income as a farmer,” Maeda said. “For all of us kids, mainly me and my little brother because we were the more athletic ones in the family, we were exposed to a lot of the rec things. And it wasn’t necessarily in the rec department. There was Optimist football that we did. We did the Hershey’s Track Meets. Just all those things that got us exposed to a lot of sports young and helped us to really find our outlet or avenue that we like to do.”
With all of the help that Maeda got when he was younger, he said he wants to be able to return the favor that his family received when he was young.
“That was a big reason of why we wanted to come back, was because, not just my family who helped me out a lot, but also the community of Ontario that helped kind of raise me and my younger brother and our family,” he said. “It was more than just my family. People in the community that my dad knew, they went out of our way to help us tremendously. Not just sports, but life in general.”
Now that he’s grown up, Maeda said he knows it’s important that he return that favor to the next generation.
“That’s not something that you truly appreciate when you’re young,” he said.
A new generation
For the first time in 30 years, Ontario recreation will not be run by Debbie Jeffries, who is now teaching physical education at Westside Elementary School in Payette.
Maeda, who played for Jeffries’ many programs, said he’s got big shoes to fill in his new position. Maeda said Jeffries’ great organization made his first few days a little easier, especially because he was dropped into his job with little direction.
“Debbie did a phenomenal job, especially at keeping track of a lot of stuff,” Maeda said. “We really appreciate that because we’re in this transition period and she’s no longer here and we don’t necessarily have a lot of supervision.”
With Maeda and Riley Helmick both being in their 20s, one thing that Maeda said the Recreation District will be doing more is implementing the use of technology and social media to both reach out to the community and to receive feedback from community members.
“That’ll be a big deal for me and Riley. That’s kind of our age, you know, technology is our age and social media is our age,” Maeda said. “Luckily, we both understand how to use those well enough so that we can get a lot of feedback in a short amount of time using surveys on the online platforms, and using data.”
Maeda said he’s excited to see what the community has in terms of input into the Recreation District.
“I think the disconnect sometimes happens in how things may have been done here, or how they are currently done and those that want to see it differently and have good ideas, they either share their input and it’s never actually getting done or that input never gets back to those that need it to be able to make the changes.”