Rec Center director breathes new life into Pan Pacific Basketball

| January 29, 2020 | 0 Comments

                   Eric Calhoun

Over the course of a few weeknights in early January, kids ranging in age from 3 to 15 took to the basketball courts at Pan Pacific Recreation Center. Team assignments not yet decided, they scrimmaged while rec center staff and parents looked on. A somewhat new-ish face presided. Eric Calhoun, the Senior Recreation Center Director, oversaw the games and in turn began the process of divvying up the teams. Within days, teams were determined for the Little Dribblers (ages 3 to 4), the Mighty Mites (5 to 6), the Pee Wees (7 to 8), the Minors (9 to 10), Majors (11 to 12), and Juniors (13 to 15). A full day of games on Jan. 11 marked the start of a busy season ahead.


Calhoun took over as Director March 4, 2019, a day that lived in apparent infamy, as what was thought to be blood-marked swastikas appeared on the walls of the Senior Center adjacent to the rec center. “I was so angry when I saw them,” says Calhoun. “I immediately called up Lisa over at LAMOTH (The Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust) and told her I was going to handle this. Growing up in the neighborhood, I had many Jewish friends, and we played basketball on these very courts.” Later, it was determined that the symbols were actually Hindu signs of peace — they could easily be mistaken for swastikas because the notorious Nazi symbol is essentially the Hindu symbol reversed. As of today, Wilshire Division police are still searching for the culprit.

Grew up here

Calhoun’s quick and easy relationship with the LAMOTH staff is an indicator of the type of guy he is — affable, upbeat and bestowed with the “gift of gab.” He grew up in the neighborhood, attending Cathedral Chapel Elementary School and what was once Daniel Murphy High School on 3rd and Detroit (now Yeshiva Aharon Yaakov-Ohr Eliyahu), eventually graduating from Fairfax High in 1988. He got his first job at West Wilshire Rec Center (which stood where the Senior Center is now) as a pool locker attendant through the city’s Youth Employment Program. At 18, he went through training and certification to become a lifeguard, all the while playing basketball on the courts with local kids.

After graduating from high school, “it took me 10 years, not the typical four, to graduate from college. I couldn’t do things the cookie-cutter way,” Calhoun explains. “I had to explore and meander on that path. I have traveled to each state in the U.S. at least twice, and I’ve traveled to 29 countries. I was soul searching and gaining life experience. But I always came back to a love for teaching, coaching and kids.” He eventually completed his degree in physical education with a focus on coaching from Cal State Dominguez Hills in 1998.

Eric began working for the City of Los Angeles Department of Parks and Recreation, doing stints at various centers around the city, but it was a serendipitous reunion at Pan Pacific in 2018 that earned him the job locale of his dreams. “I was playing basketball there one day with some friends, and we came up to the center for a water break, and the supervisor was there. He was the same guy who ran the program when we were kids and we started talking. He said he was leaving and that I needed to put my hat in. I hightailed it back to Hermosa Beach, got my resume in shape and sent it over that day.” He got the job.


Calhoun wasted no time getting to work, getting the City to improve the infrastructure of the facility (including two new court floors), ushering in new programs (Pan Pacific Soccer, played on the turf), recruiting talent (bringing in club-level talent to assist with trainings and clinics), girls’ volleyball and, perhaps most ambitiously, restructuring the youth basketball program. “When I was a kid, they had two leagues within each age group (Minor A and Minor B). So, the kids who had been playing for a while and had a high level of skill were in Minor A, and kids who were new or still learning the fundamentals were in Minor B. Dividing it up this way allowed the playing field to be more equal. I wanted to bring back this kind of structure and modernize it. I’m calling it Minors Platinum and Minors Gold.”

With different levels in each age group (except for Little Dribblers), every kid can get the chance to shine. There is also room for upward mobility between groups. “It’s fluid — if a kid from Minors Gold is really mastering the fundamentals and would be better suited for Platinum, we can move that kid up. It’s about excelling at his or her own level, whatever it may be. My ultimate goal is to help kids fall in love with sports,” Calhoun says. “There are the kids who have to be dragged out of the house to do group sports, and there are the kids who are all about it, and then there’s everyone in between. I want to serve each and every one of them and help each child experience success.”

So far, this philosophy seems to be working. As a parent in the league, I can attest that the kids seem happy and the energy at Pan Pacific feels just right.

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