In for the Long Run

Gary may not be a 'sports guy' but he knows how to get things moving in the world of sport!

Gary Shelton is a tall, athletic looking man who has spent the last twelve years of his career promoting and advocating for amateur sport in Edmonton. As a graduate of the Recreation Administration program at the U of A, Gary believes that sport is the key element to the promotion of health and safety in every community. Yet he does not consider himself an athlete.

As a kid growing up in Kamloops, he knew he wanted to work with young people. Deciding which route to take was the harder choice.

“When I was in high school I had to decide between education and recreation and I settled on recreation because it was going to be more fun. I went to Caribou College in Kamloops (now Thompson Rivers University) right after high school and got a diploma in recreational and leisure studies.”

After graduation, Gary came to Edmonton to be a youth worker and eventually became the recreation coordinator with a youth-in-care agency. He held this position for two years but he knew he wanted to go to university and finish a degree.

“I had saved money and I had to decide on whether to go to university or buy a new car,” he recalls, “I didn’t get the car.”

Getting into university was the first challenge, having his previous courses accepted for credit was another. Gary was initially awarded credits toward the first year of study and had three more years to complete. After canvassing his classmates to see what credits they had received he mapped out a plan.

“I went to my advisor to negotiate. I said these are the courses that fit within my program major (Community Development and Leisure Studies) that I want to get credit for based on what I had done. They dropped it down to 2 ½ years.”

While at university Gary was working part time for a social service agency involved with helping young people. After Gary received his Bachelor of Arts in Recreation Administration in 1986, he continued working for them. His experience there helped him move on to the Boys and Girls Club in Fort Saskatchewan, followed by the role of executive director of the new Boys and Girls Club of Leduc. He held that position for ten years.

“I tend to stay in jobs for a long time. But, about 12 years ago, I applied on a whim to be the executive director for the Edmonton Sport Council ( This is an advocacy group and a resource for amateur sport in Edmonton. They hired me and I am still there today.”

Ironically the greatest part of Gary’s job, and the one most directly benefiting from his education and experience, does not involve him in sports. In fact, his advocacy for amateur sports relies more on his face time with politicians and administrators than on the court.

“That’s what’s surprising to a lot of people,” Gary explains, “I’m the executive director of the Edmonton Sport Council but I’m not a sports guy. I never have been. But I see the benefits and my degree gives me the background in community development.”

The challenges for Gary are many, especially when it comes to persuading governments to allocate resources for facilities and programs.

“I am continually pushing the rope to get politicians and administrations to understand the benefits of the investment,” he says, “Governments are still in crisis mode right now. They would sooner treat unfit Canadians in the healthcare system and the justice system or social services than make what would be an investment in sports at the community level.”

As recreation and sport are the responsibility of the municipal government and health, justice and social services are the responsibility of the provincial government, Gary regularly meets with officials from all levels of government and runs the maze of regulations and expectations between them. Because recreation is a long term investment, often longer than some politicians’ careers, it is a challenge for Gary to convince them to invest in resources that will take time to show results. But he has had successes and continues to build on these relationships.

“You need to stay in the game a long time and build relationships and, while not burning the bridge, knowing when to push.”

Gary and his wife Dawn, also a recreation grad, find time to enjoy trips to the cottage and quiet nights at home. Gary knows his successes will come over time.

“I’m in it for the long run.”