Norwich recreation director office occupied for first time in four years

Cheryl Hancin Preston, Norwich's new recreation director, is seen Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017, in her new office at the Norwich Recreation Department. It was her first day on the job. (Claire Bessette/The Day)
Cheryl Hancin Preston, Norwich's new recreation director, is seen Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017, in her new office at the Norwich Recreation Department. It was her first day on the job. (Claire Bessette/The Day)

Norwich — Cheryl Hancin Preston grew up playing basketball and soccer, running track on the sports fields and courts, and jumping on playground equipment throughout Norwich.

Now she will spend much of the rest of this week visiting those same fields and courts to assess their condition and what they might need for what could become a beefed-up schedule of recreational sports and programs in the coming months.

Preston started Tuesday as the city’s first recreation director in four years. And while she didn’t have a computer, cellphone or city email just yet, she feels ready to hit the ground running.

“I’m excited, thrilled to be here,” Preston said in her new office Tuesday afternoon, as a city technology staffer worked to set up her computer. “I want to improve what’s here, grow and offer more activities for the community.”

One new playground was being installed Tuesday outside her office at 75 Mohegan Road, adjacent to the city tennis courts, which could use some attention. Preston plans to meet with recreation program staff, field maintainers and coaches to do an internal assessment of the program’s facilities.

The winter basketball program is gearing up now, with registrations open until Dec. 15 for youths aged 8 to 13. The program costs $45 for residents, $55 for nonresidents. She also is seeking volunteer coaches. Anyone interested should call the Recreation Department at (860) 823-3791.

Preston grew up in Norwich, attended Uncas School, Teachers’ Memorial Middle School and Norwich Free Academy, where she played soccer, basketball and track, concentrating on track for her last two years, graduating in 1992. She earned a bachelor’s degree in political science at the University of Connecticut, but found her real love playing intramural and recreation sports there.

Preston earned a master’s degree in sports and recreational management at Florida International University and then returned to Connecticut to get her master’s in business administration at the University of Hartford, where she became recreation and intramural sports director while she earned her degree.

Preston is a certified recreation and parks professional, an aquatics facility operator, American Red Cross lifeguard, health and nutrition coach and a master gardener. She had served as full-time Colchester recreation director for the past six years.

The Norwich position, at least for now, is part-time. Her salary will be based on the annual part-time salary of $48,0228, rising to $51,870 after six months. The plan — though not guaranteed in an uncertain budget climate — is to boost the position to full time next budget year. That salary would be $88,180.

“I knew going in it was part time,” Preston said. “We can make it work. It’s a good start.”

She said she understands budget pressures the city faces and remains hopeful for next summer. “I think it would be great if it does go full time,” she said. “’We can bring back (programs) and expand.”

c.bessette@theday.com

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