Five decades removed from his first job with the parks and recreation department, Joe Ebarb has made quite a journey.
His entry-level days as a teenage scorekeeper turned out to be a starting point for an eventual landing spot in the Johnson City organization’s athletic department.
“It really is surreal,” said Ebarb, who took over as athletic director in August. “I feel very blessed and fortunate. I never dreamed I would be in this position. I feel like the Lord led me down this path many years before I started.”
There were nearly 30 years at Eastman Chemical Company in Kingsport and five years with the YMCA in Erwin between his first days with the parks and recreation department and his current role. And things are much different these days because of COVID-19 — not the least of which is the eerily silent tower in the middle of the Winged Deer Park softball complex.
Instead of being surrounded by a bevy of activity, Ebarb is waiting to unleash the many plans, hopes and ideas he has for the athletic programs in Johnson City. Everything was shut down when he took over, and only a few fall softball programs were able to take place.
“We attempted to do basketball and had signups,” he said. “But we had to do refunds because of COVID. We had no choice. The parents were understanding, but at the same time I think they were sad and disappointed because their children were looking forward to playing. Right now we are in a holding pattern.”
Ebarb, 63, said he is in it for the long run.
“I’ve been involved with playing and coaching my whole life,” he said. “I can’t see myself getting away from it. I’ve been associated with it for close to 50 years. I love it.”
Ebarb said his love for youth sports is a big part of the equation, and he also recently found a new avenue of appreciation.
“We had senior softball this fall and I got to know those guys,” Ebarb said. “It really impressed me. We had three guys over 80 years old playing softball, and it was such an inspiration to myself. I have gotten on social media and tried to encourage my friends to look into playing. Any type of activity is good for the body. We need to keep moving. That’s one thing we can do at any age.”
Among the future hopes for Ebarb is overseeing the building of new softball and soccer fields. The addition of at least four softball fields at Winged Deer Park would move the facility close to double digits.
“I think in less than five years we could have both of those projects completed,” he said.
Ebarb said he wants to be around for that and beyond.
“If I could not work with some type of sports, I don’t know how I would survive,” he said. “I have to be around it. I coached middle school in Johnson City for 10 years off and on, and I had to give that up to take over out here. We’ve also had Shooting Stars basketball for 24-25 years.”
Overall, Ebarb said he expects the parks and recreation department to thrive once it gets out from under the grip of COVID-19.
“If we aren’t improving I would be disappointed,” he said. “I feel that confident about my own ability. As long as I have my health and mind, I want to do these things. It’s a labor of love.”