By Missy Schrott | [email protected]
After 30 years of developing city recreation programs, starting a Miracle League for special needs kids and adults and being the voice on the other end of the youth sports hotline, Mac Slover is retiring.
The longtime head of Alexandria’s youth and adult sports programs has touched the lives of countless children, parents, athletes and volunteers over the course of his three-decade-long career. To be involved in Alexandria rec sports was to be involved with Mac Slover.
“His impact is far and wide,” Lindsey Swanson, vice chair of the Miracle League of Alexandria, said. “I mean, he’s been with the city now for 30 years. There was no aspect of the city parks department that he didn’t touch. He knows so many kids and worked on so many of the different programs throughout his years with the city that he’s just this beloved figure around the area.”
Slover’s passion for city programs is evident in the time and heart he puts into his work.
“We joke a lot with him about how he never goes home, because he’s usually the first person in the office in the morning and the last person to leave at night,” Tamika Coleman, Slover’s assistant of 14 years, said. “We always come in like, ‘Did you spend the night?’”
Slover grew up in Macon, Georgia playing baseball, football and golf. He fell in love with the camaraderie of being part of a team and started volunteering with community youth programs while he was in school at Georgia Southern University.
After bouncing from major to major in college, Slover eventually found his passion and graduated with a degree in public recreation in 1979. Not quite ready to leave the South, he worked as an athletic director at two private schools in Georgia before moving to Alexandria in 1988.
“When you apply for [a job] back then, you’re much younger and you’re not thinking, ‘Oh, I‘m gonna do a 30-year career,’” Slover said, “and you look up and 30 years are done.”
Over the three decades he’s worked in the city’s recreation department, Slover has served in varying director positions at Charles Houston Recreation Center, Charles Barrett Recreation Center, Cora Kelly Recreation Center and Patrick Henry Recreation Center, in addition to serving 15 years as director of sports. He will retire at the end of June from his position as regional program director for youth activities, community outreach and seniors.
“I felt like the community part of it was always pulling me,” Slover said. “I was always volunteer coaching baseball or girls’ softball, and I just felt like this was my calling.”
Anyone who knows or has worked with Slover knows that the crown jewel of his career was starting the Miracle League of Alexandria.
“This was the best thing I’ve ever been involved in – and knowing something that I thought of and that I developed, to come to fruition, that meant a lot to me,” Slover said.
Slover said he started talking about building a field for kids and adults with special needs in 2005, but it wasn’t until 2010 when he began to get community buy-in. The city approved $285,000 in funds for the project and planned to begin construction in 2020. Another $300,000 in private and in-kind donations helped expedite the construction, and the field opened in 2012.
Slover said the field was the first city-sponsored program to be developed for special needs youth and adults. During the grand opening, special needs players were led out to their new field with a torch.
Swanson, one of Slover’s partners in developing the league, said the grand opening was rewarding for everyone involved.
“I think one of my favorite memories was just the look of joy and pride on his face on the night we dedicated the field,” she said. “He was just beaming from ear to ear and grinning and just, this was his dream realized. Being able to be there and witness that and how proud he was, was fantastic.”
Slover said the moment he knew he had done the right thing was when one of the children was wheeled onto the field; the girl, who is nonverbal and typically not expressive, started laughing at the sight of one of the mascots.
“That’s when you know you’ve done something that means a lot,” Slover said. “Just knowing every week, when we run the program, the kids and the adults know this is their field. They know that this was done for them.”
Bill Rivers, chair of the Miracle League, said Slover’s passion has always impressed him.
“It’s [The Miracle League] been going on for seven or eight years now and his enthusiasm has not flagged at all,” Rivers said. “He is truly the driving force there. It’s pretty obvious to me and anyone else he sees that it’s one of those love-of-your-life things. He really wants to see it succeed. He wants to see it do well.”
Slover attributes his success – with Miracle League and his other career ventures – to the coworkers, collaborators and volunteers who helped him along the way.
“I always say that any success that I’ve had is because I’ve had great staff that have worked with me,” Slover said. “I’ve been fortunate over the years, whether it’s been in the rec center or whether it’s been in the sports programs.”
Over the years, Slover’s achievements include being inducted into the Northern Virginia Hall Of Fame, chairing the Mayor’s Campaign to End Bullying, being named the city’s Parks and Rec Employee of the Year in 1991 and being honored by the Alexandria Sportsman Club in 2011. Most recently, Slover found out that the Children, Youth & Families Collaborative Commission had selected him as a 2018 Champion of Children awardee.
In addition to the Miracle League, Slover said his favorite part of the job was creating different programs. He said he especially enjoyed developing the Night of Stars Performing Arts Festival for the rec centers and building up the girls softball and field hockey programs.
“It’s those types of programs, the day-to-day being able to see kids succeed, that’s been our focus,” Slover said. “I didn’t ever get into this business to get accolades or things like that. That’s not my style. I believe that hard work is what I was paid to do.”
Mayor Allison Silberberg said, while Slover’s retirement is well deserved, he will be sorely missed.
“He’s sort of like a Pied Piper of staff,” Silberberg said. “The kids take to him and the adults. He’s got this happy demeanor.”
Upon retiring at the end of June, Slover plans to take the rest of the summer to spend time with family and travel with his girlfriend, Diane. However, he doesn’t see his involvement with city sports and the Miracle League coming to an end.
“Mac is the kind of person where when he retires, he’s not going to be sitting in a chair anywhere or anything like that,” Rivers said. “He’s going to be exceedingly active. I think he already has some ideas to help out other Miracle League chapters in Northern Virginia. … I think some of the others could benefit from Mac’s guidance and enthusiasm about what needs to be done.”
Slover said he plans to stay in the area and will continue to volunteer and run the Miracle League. He also plans to find some kind of part-time, community-based volunteering or coaching job in the recreation field.
“My career has been rewarding,” Slover said. “You make a lot of lifetime friendships, and, at the same time, we’re all working to try and build the best community possible, provide the best programs. For me, it’s always been about passion … and also being true to yourself. People see you as being a person that’s of your word and that you genuinely care about what you’re doing. I think those are important. I’ve been lucky.”
He paused and smiled, then repeated, “I’ve been lucky.”