Campus News

Rec sports coordinator strives to ‘pay it forward’ with her student workers

Emmie Gooch's first job at the Ramsey Student Center was working as a lifeguard her freshman year. She worked her way up becoming pool manager

Emmie Gooch’s job at Recreational Sports is more than just fun and games. 

Sure, she sets up Ultimate Frisbee games and makes sure the spectators at Saturday tournaments have fun, but mostly it’s all about her students.

As coordinator for club sports and the Recreational Sports Complex, Gooch oversees a staff of about 20-25 students who she calls her “park rangers” and “lifeguards for land.”

Together they check on the Intramural Fields and the Club Sports Complex on South Milledge Avenue and make sure the fields are painted and the tennis nets are in working order. They staff special events at the facilities, setting up tables and chairs, providing first aid when needed and keeping patrons informed about weather emergencies. 

Her job is more paperwork and work orders than impromptu rugby demonstrations, though that’s not unheard of in Gooch’s Ramsey Student Center office. 

“I try to pay it forward with any student—to give back in the ways that I was given time and energy when I was a student,” she said. “I love my students—even when they make mistakes or fail. Their energy is contagious. I’m reminded at some point every day what my job is—student development.”

Gooch, who technically started working for the university as a Ramsey Center lifeguard when she was a freshman 12 years ago, sees herself  as a support system for her student workers.

So when students go through relationship break-ups or they fail a test, “I’m the go-to girl,” she said.

And that’s exactly the way she wants it.

“I take an active interest in them,” she said. “When you take an active interest in students of this generation, they’re going to trust you, come to you when they have problems. You can be that intervening positive force as opposed to cleaning up the mess afterwards.”

 She lends an ear if they want to discuss the merits of graduate school or entering the job market. She’s the office proofreader and the students’ résumé checker. She helps take them from her park rangers and “glorified field painters” to risk management specialists and event managers.

She oversees UGA’s  44 club sports like soccer, lacrosse and cricket. She helps advise the students with club sports’ budgets, travel paperwork and leadership.

By appointment or drop-in, she holds office hours for any issues that come up—work related or not. 

Affectionately known as “Mother Gooch” to her student workers, Gooch said she has a bit of a nurturing side.

For Matt Turnblom, a student manager in Recreational Sports, Mother Gooch is more than being taken under Gooch’s wing—it’s also the glaring look she gives when students have crossed the line—a look, he said, that only a mother can give. And while she’s caring, she’s not afraid to put students in their place. 

“I’m a nice person but I’ve also learned that giving students structure and standards of expectations-—and holding them to those standards by being a disciplinarian—helps build them into better, stronger people,” Gooch said. “Having ownership over their tasks and empowering them to do those things, and giving them the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes is just as important as doing things correctly.”

It’s a lesson Turnblom said he’s learned. “She lets us try it on our own and make mistakes,” he said. “If you don’t make mistakes, you don’t learn and you don’t grow.”