Director brings fresh options to Cudahy Rec Department

November 2, 2016

By Sheila Julson

Executive Director Tina Kreitlow has invigorated the Cudahy Recreation Department with new programming that has caused participation to burgeon. PHOTO Jennifer Kresse

Executive Director Tina Kreitlow has invigorated the Cudahy Recreation Department with new programming that has caused participation to burgeon. PHOTO Jennifer Kresse

When Tina Kreitlow started as full-time director of the Cudahy Community Education and Recreation Department in 2013, she had many goals in mind.

Her main goal, though, was to generate excitement when the recreation guide hit residents’ mailboxes. “I want to give people a reason to open the rec guide every time it’s mailed to their house,” she said.

Her vision has come to fruition. The center now offers a plenitude of recreation options that range from youth sports programs, family outings, movie nights, and fun adult programs like sausage making, soap making, using essential oils, foodie tours including that of the Milwaukee’s custard stands, to wine making, and the Yeti Dash — a winter snowshoe race, and many more.

Like that of Milwaukee and several suburban areas, Cudahy’s rec department is operated by the school district, versus those that are run by municipalities. Before Kreitlow’s tenure, the executive director position was part-time. A part-time secretary and school principals were charged with dedicating time to the program.

The rec department took a back seat to the academic needs, Kreitlow said, until Cudahy School District Superintendent Dr. James Heiden ramped up an effort to get more participation and involvement in the rec department.

In 2012-2013, 1,994 children and adults participated in its programs. Three years later, after Kreitlow was hired, the number burgeoned to 13,797. Of those, 75 to 80 percent were Cudahy residents.

Kreitlow said the swimming programs draw a diverse mix of South Shore residents from Cudahy but also St. Francis, South Milwaukee, Bay View, and Oak Creek.

“When you dedicate the resources to a project, you’re going to see different results,” she said. “Our first priority is youth. Our school board is very concerned with getting more youth involved in our community. Then we focused on our adult programs, and those really help offset the cost of our youth programs, which are offered at a nominal fee.”

Kreitlow and her staff heard from parents who desired opportunities for higher levels of competition for younger-aged children.

In response, they created programs tailored to be developmentally friendly for different age groups. First and second graders participate in an instructional league, where they experience league-style play, wear team shirts, and play against other teams, but the majority of their participation is focused on instructional development. The referees don’t blow the whistles every time a child does something wrong and scores are not kept. These leagues meet once a week.

Emily Borck is intently engaged with her art project at the Cudahy Recreation Department. PHOTO Jennifer Kresse

Emily Borck is intently engaged with her art project at the Cudahy Recreation Department. PHOTO Jennifer Kresse

The third and fourth grade leagues meet two times a week, and the fifth and sixth grade leagues, three times per week. As the children mature and grow older, they are exposed to more competition. Kreitlow says it’s a format that has been well received.

Fall sports offerings include basketball, soccer, and introduction to tennis and football. Other options include tae kwon do, dance, pom-poms, a Latino club, fashion design, and more. There are also preschool and family programs and activities such as family movie nights, a pumpkin farm outing, and pet care  education.

The aquatic program, which Kreitlow highlights as the most popular of the department’s offerings, includes many different swim lessons and water exercise classes for adults and children, including group and private swim lessons, synchronized swimming, Flick and Float movie nights, and regular open swim sessions. Both Cudahy High School and Cudahy Middle School have 25 yard, six lane pools. The pool at the middle school, used for most swim activities, was recently upgraded with new paint, illumination, and underwater lights.

Kreitlow said the department holds water safety in high regard. During the 2013-2014 year, the department gave 175 kids swim lessons; in 2015-2016, they taught 1,675 kids. Kreitlow noted that when the South Shore YMCA closed, Heiden and the Cudahy school board foresaw that the biggest consequence the community would face was a dearth of swim lessons.

“We want to be sure our kids have access to affordable and quality swim,” Kreitlow said, “Some private swim schools are cost prohibitive for a lot of families on the South Shore. Swimming is not only exercise, but also a life skill. We give every second grader in the community water safety and basic swim lessons for free, as part of the school day.”

Adult Fun

Kreitlow introduced scores of new options for adults. She partnered with Northern Brewing to offer an introduction to beer, wine, and mead making and partnered with Anodyne Coffee to offer an introduction to coffee roasting. There are also classes in making essential oils making, soap making, glass blowing, scuba diving, pretzel making, plus yoga and fitness classes and day excursions.

“I think about things I would like to do, and I ask the staff at the district office what they’d like,” Kreitlow said, “Or when I’m out and about, I get ideas and find somebody who can teach that class.” She said the unique workshops have been successful, as they parlay on the experiential learning/DIY trend. The department tries to be responsive to that, while keeping fees affordable.

Most of its fitness instructors have been with the department for many years. Kreitlow observed that people seem to gravitate toward instructors rather than the types of fitness classes, so they try to recruit those who already have a following. The department offers a punch card program for those who are not able to accommodate classes that take place over multiple weeks. Rec users are able to purchase a punch card for five, 10, or 15 classes that they can use it to attend the classes of their choice.

Kreitlow said that punch cards work well for adults who travel for work and others who can’t commit to a seven-week session. The card also provides flexibility by providing an opportunity for those who aren’t sure, for example, if they want to try Zumba, yoga, or another martial arts. With the punch card, they are able to sample activities to see which they prefer.

“With everything we do, we ask, how do we make this as user friendly as possible for the community, and how do I grab their attention?” Kreitlow said.

The annual winter Yeti Dash, a tongue-in-cheek reference to the abominable snowman in Nepalese folklore, is a snowshoe race held near Warnimont Park, near the Kelly Senior Center. The event started in 2014 as a fundraiser to launch the department’s summer camps and to raise money to hire and train instructors and purchase equipment.

Kreitlow said they have fun with the Yeti theme. Someone fitted out with a Yeti costume hides behind a tree along the trail. She said the event draws, on average, 85 participants. Last winter’s unusually mild weather caused the event to be postponed to April. The department partners with Erehwon Mountain Outfitter and Northern Lites Snowshoes who provide snowshoes to participants. CG Schmidt sponsors the event.

The kids’ summer camps have been successful, Kreitlow said, and affordable. The cost is approximately $99 per week, compared to prices charged by the former Cudahy YMCA, which cost as much as $240 per week for nonmembers and $171 for members. The department integrated specialty camps into the traditional summer camps. One is centered on sports, one on arts, and another on exploration, which employed MythBusters’ style scientific methods to test the validity of rumors, myths, and stories. The junior vet camp featured a veterinarian who discussed his work, and included a tour of Milwaukee Area Domestic Animal Control Commission (MADACC).

In 2014, the first year the program was offered, the 10 week summer camp drew an average of 37 children per week. By 2016, participation grew to an average of 95 per week.

Kreitlow said they would take up to 125 kids next year, and bring back the former, popular reading camp. They may also offer a teen camp to teach leadership skills.

Human Service Career

Kreitlow, a Wauwatosa native, originally wanted to be a police officer. After a yearlong internship with the Wauwatosa Police Department, she decided law enforcement wasn’t for her.

I’d rather be on the preventative side than the punitive side,” she said.

She spent 16 years with the YMCA of Metropolitan Milwaukee and seven for the YMCA of Greater New York. Her accomplishments include running a school–based community center in the Queens borough of New York City, and opening the first skate park near Flushing, also in Queens. She built and opened the Chinatown YMCA in Manhattan, as part of a mixed-use development that includes apartments and a Whole Foods store.

Kreitlow returned to Milwaukee in 2007 and worked as executive director for the South Shore YMCA until she started her current position with the Cudahy Rec Department in 2013. She has a bachelor’s degree in sociology from UW-Whitewater and master’s degree in human services administration from Springfield College in Massachusetts.

She began working at the YMCA when she was 16 at the West Suburban YMCA in Wauwatosa, where among other things, she coached youth sports.

The Cudahy Recreation Department is open to all, but non-Cudahy residents pay slightly higher fees than residents.

More info:  

South Shore Recreation Venues

Many recreation departments have vast offerings for adults and children so they can get moving, learn a new skill, and meet neighbors. From youth and adults sports to arts, crafts, outdoor excursions, foreign language, financial education, and more, they offer resources for personal enrichment at a nominal fee.

Milwaukee Recreation is operated by Milwaukee Public Schools. In Bay View, Milwaukee Rec programs are offered at Beulah Brinton Community Center, with limited program options at Bay View High School (boys and girls pool) and Parklawn Educational Complex. According to, Beulah Brinton, 2555 S. Bay St., is Milwaukee Rec’s only stand-alone community center, serving people of all ages. Youth programs at Beulah Brinton include baton, ballet, basketball, a toddler playgroup, and tae kwon do. Adult fitness at Beulah Brinton includes Zumba, yoga, volleyball, and several activities for seniors such as bingo, cards, pool, darts, and a senior lunch program.

Price Comparison

Bitty Basketball (ages 5 to 6): Beulah Brinton: $14 residents/$28 nonresidents

Community Open Swim: South Division High School Pool: free (participants must bring towel, suit, and swim cap)

Adult Enrichment: Salsa Making, Beulah Brinton: $25 residents/$37.50 nonresidents

Cudahy Community Recreation and Education

Biddy Basketball (ages 3 though 7): $20 resident/$25 nonresident

Open Swim: coupon books $40 for 20 visits; $53 for 30 visits; fall seasonal pass $60 for adults; $30 for youth; $80 family pass

Adult Enrichment: Coffee-roasting Workshop: $7

St. Francis School District Recreation Department

Facilities include St. Francis High School, Deer Creek Intermediate School, and Willow Glen Primary School. Programs include youth sports such as basketball, tennis, soccer, and dance; adult programs include exercise/fitness. The district offers aquatics and martial arts programs for children and adults. They offer adult fitness classes, but no community education classes were listed in the 2016 fall guide.

Youth Basketball (Grade 3 thru 8); Partners with South Milwaukee youth basketball: $83

Open Swim (Deer Creek Pool): Residents: $2 for students; $4 adults; $3 seniors/nonresidents: $4 students. Nonresidents: $6 adults; $5 seniors (prices per session); adult punch cards $40 for 12 visits

Adult: Butts N Guts with Yoga fitness class: $25 resident/$45 nonresident

School District of South Milwaukee Recreation Department

Basketball, soccer, wrestling, and running opportunities for youth, as well as a theater workshop are offered. Adults can take classes in computer skills, finance, and several exercise and dance classes. Youth swim lessons are held at the South Milwaukee Middle School Pool.

Youth basketball (Grade 3 thru 8): $48 residents/$58 nonresidents

Swim lessons (no open swim listed in fall 2016 recreation flier): Age 2 to 5 or 6 to 12 (various levels): $44 resident/$54 nonresident

Adult Education: Computer Basics: $20 resident/$30 nonresident

Sheila Julson is a freelance writer and regular contributor to the Bay View Compass. 

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