Bringing Calm Demeanor, Decades of Experience, Moorhead Thrilled to Be Guiding Rec Department
HEADING THE DEPARTMENT: Evan Moorhead, center, poses with Ben Stentz, left, and Vikki Caines at the Community Park Pool. Moorhead has succeeded Stentz as the executive director of the Princeton Recreation Department, taking the helm this July when Stentz left to pursue other opportunities. Moorhead is well-prepared for his new role, having served as the assistant recreation director for the department since 2011 and in a variety of other part-time roles since the 1990s. (Photo provided by the Princeton Recreation Department)
By Bill Alden
When Evan Moorhead got his first job at the Community Park tennis courts working for the Princeton Recreation Department in 1990, he never envisioned that he would someday be running the department.
Over the years, Moorhead has worn many hats for the Rec Department, including managing the CP Pool, running the Summer Men’s Hoops League and the Dillon Hoops league, and coaching in the boys’ hoops league while working full-time at Bloomberg and then running Dillon Gym.
Moorhead, a former Princeton High boys’ hoops player, started working full-time for the Rec Department as an assistant director in 2011 when his close friend and former PHS teammate Ben Stentz became the executive director.
Earlier this year when Stentz announced he was stepping down to pursue other opportunities, Moorhead put his hat in the ring to succeed his friend and was chosen by the Recreation Commission as the new executive director, taking the helm in July.
“It was bittersweet for me, I was completely excited and thrilled to be given the opportunity,” said the easy-going, affable Moorhead, 47, who lives in town with his wife, Dana Hughes Moorhead, a third-generation Princetonian, and their daughter, Eme Moorhead, age 9.
“But at the same time it meant I would no longer be working day to day with a colleague I really respected and a friend who I have known since I was 10 years old. I felt ready but there is a little bit of nerves. It is a big job. Ben left very big shoes to fill here at PRD, as did Don Barr and Jack Roberts prior to that. I’m following in the footsteps of three New Jersey Parks and Recreation legends.”
Having moved to Princeton from Raleigh, N.C., when he was 10, Moorhead’s first contract with the Rec Department came when he started playing in the Dillon Hoops League.
Six years later, he started working for the department at the CP tennis complex.
“My first paid job was the CP tennis courts, checking IDs,” said Moorhead, sitting in his corner office in the Rec Department with a view of CP Pool and a framed quote “Don’t give up, don’t ever give up” from the late basketball coach Jim Valvano.
“My mom said you need to get a job this summer and why don’t you check out the Recreation Dept. I came down here and filled out an application and ended up getting hired over there … that summer.”
During his college years at Rutgers, Moorhead remained involved with the department through hoops.
“Coming back here in the summer time, I was very focused on trying to win a championship in the men’s league from the time I got midway through my Rutgers years into my early adulthood,” said Moorhead, who has gone on to serve as the summer league commissioner for many years.
“That was the Tiger’s Tale era, they were dominant. After a few years I put my own team together, my goal was to beat Tiger’s Tale and win that title. The 1997 Cafe Piazza team won it all, we beat Tiger’s Tale. I had five former D-1 players on that team, that is what it took to unseat them. That is a picture of that team on my wall.”
After graduating from Rutgers, Moorhead went to work for Bloomberg LP in Skillman as a data analyst.
“It was a good place to work, it is a big company,” said Moorhead, who continued to be involved with the Rec Department coaching and playing hoops in the summer.
“It really introduced me to the financial world and finical markets. I knew early on it wasn’t what I wanted to do with my career but it exposed me to that world, investing and learning about the financial markets. It stuck with me, it is an important life skill.”
While working at Bloomberg, Moorhead realized he wanted to be involved in athletics in some capacity and he started a master’s program at Temple University in sport and recreation administration.
In addition, Moorhead became involved with Princeton University athletics.
“I had also started working part time at the university at athletic events,” said Moorhead.
“I was doing the score table for soccer, helping for football, and basketball. I actually started the scorekeeping first for women’s basketball in 97-98.”
Upon graduating from the Temple program in 2003, Moorhead turned an internship with Princeton into a job, becoming the assistant director of campus recreation facilities and running Dillon Gym.
“I was looking for a full-time job and it just so happened that the guy who was that manager of Dillon Gym and basically running the recreation facility there left,” said Moorhead.
“In October 2003, I started full time at the University, I had a full-time job in athletics and recreation.”
Eight years later, when Stentz was named the Rec Department executive director, Moorhead came across town to join his team, eventually becoming the assistant recreation director.
“One of the selling points has really been the community; it is the community I grew up in and had been involved with most of my adult life if not all of my adult life,” said Moorhead, reflecting on the move.
“This was always a bigger draw for me. There are some people who look and say why would you leave a fantastic athletic department at the University, which it is, and come back and work for the municipal government. For me, I never looked at it that way. It was always the draw of the community and that for me was the highlight, what I really enjoyed and meant the most to me.”
Over the last 10 years, Moorhead grew professionally in number of ways as he dealt with the Princeton community.
“I knew coming in that this was going to give me the opportunity to do a lot of different things in terms of more administrative stuff,” said Moorhead.
“I already had some facility experience there so I was able to translate that to working on a lot of capital projects and parks. We oversee all of the parks. I came in right at the beginning of the pool renovation. There was the opportunity to work with a wider base of people and develop the skills that you need to interact with a more diverse community. The opportunity to have some engagement with youth was great. The municipal government world is a different world than working for a private university. It took some time to acclimate to that in a full time position just in terms of things like the budgetary constraints which is a big one here.”
Dealing with COVID-19 last year was a key learning experience for Moorhead as well.
“It turned our world upside down last March, April; we weren’t sure what, if anything, we could offer to the community or who might show up,” said Moorhead.
“We were still waiting for guidance from the state Department of Health. We were really proud to offer those programs last year and get the pool open when we did and provide that opportunity. We got a lot of tremendous feedback.”
When Moorhead learned that Stentz was leaving his post, he jumped at the chance to succeed his friend.
“I never had any expectation that I would ever have the opportunity to be the executive director because of the fact that Ben and I are the same age,” said Moorhead.
“He did a fantastic job and he could have stayed here for as long as he wanted. So when I realized that the opportunity was coming, I was excited. There was no question that I was going to apply for it.”
There was no questions that Moorhead was ready to take the helm, having been tutored by Stentz.
“Ben had always tried to include me in a lot of things that another director might not have,” said Moorhead.
“That was always how he operated because you never know when someone might not be there for whatever reason … I felt like I was well prepared for it. Being able to work with him and watch him and learn from him and see how he functioned in that role was a great learning experience for me.”
Stentz, for his part, is thrilled to be passing the baton to Moorhead.
“Evan is the right guy, he has been so loyal,” said Stentz.
“He has taken on anything that I have handed him and done it well. He has got a much better calm demeanor than I do.”
Three months into his new role, it has been so far, so good.
“We enjoy working with each other, we have a great team and that is part of what we have built here,” said Moorhead.
“All the way up and down the line is a fantastic team. We enjoy coming to work each day, having fun, and joking around. We work hard, we get the work done.”
Keep that team running smoothly was at the top of Moorhead’s to-do list when he took the helm.
“In the short term, our biggest challenge is the transition,” said Moorhead.
“It happened in our busiest season, the summertime. So we were navigating this summer when we are still in a COVID environment and everything that went along with that at a time when we are also now down a position and shorthanded.”
Looking down the road, finding more places to play is an ongoing issue for the Rec Department.
“The demand for facilities and athletic fields is not going away,” said Moorhead, noting that the department is looking to add adaptive programs, arts and crafts, and social activities to its standard offering of athletic activities.
“The good part about that is there is a lot of youth in this town who are active. They are involved in sports, which is what we want to see. The part where it impacts the recreation department directly is our fields, the ones that those clubs and organizations use. We don’t have an indoor facility of our own, so that is always something that has been a challenge for us, especially in the wintertime with some of our traditional basketball programming where we have to rely in the schools and the University.”
As Moorhead settles into his new role, he knows to expect the unexpected.
“I have heard for years people say that in a job like this you have to be prepared for anything,” said Moorhead.
“You never know what you are going to deal with on any given day. There is no department in this town that has more touch points with 100,000-plus visitors at the pool, all the hundreds and thousands of people that come through our parks plus all of our youth and adult programs. Each one of those touch points, we want them to have a great experience. It is also the potential for a learning experience when something unexpected happens. You just never know on any given day where it is going to lead you and what you might end up doing.”
Moorhead is dedicated to making sure people keep having great experiences when they come in touch with the department.
“It is the Rec Department way to do whatever it takes to get the job done, even if you have to come in the office in a pandemic, at nights or on the weekend,” said Moorhead.
“That is what we signed up for, we don’t mind that. We are people persons, that is why we got involved working with the public. We like seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces when they pass the swim test for the first time at CP Pool, when they score their first bucket in a basketball game or when they pick up a new skill in one of our programs.”
With the steady Moorhead at the helm, there should be plenty of smiles around the Rec Department and its programs for years to come.