It’s springtime, which means you can find Randy Geister outside, prepping ball fields – the very same fields he hit a baseball or practiced football drills on as a Prior Lake Laker in the 1970s, and the same fields where he cheered on his own children as they grew up playing sports in Prior Lake. Geister is a true Laker. Born and raised in Prior Lake, he played baseball, football and basketball, leading the Lakers to their 1977 basketball championship as co-captain. He went on to play college basketball and football at the University of Minnesota-Morris before being signed as a free agent first by the Dallas Cowboys and then later the Chicago Bears.
Today, Geister runs the $1-million organization Prior Lake Athletics for Youth (P.L.A.Y.). As the administrative director, he’s responsible for building and maintaining relationships with the Prior Lake/Savage city schools, working with grade-level coordinators, overseeing rulings and judgments, and continuing to enhance the organization’s youth athletics programs, which include baseball, lacrosse, softball, track, tennis, cheer, volleyball, football, and basketball. “The greatest thing about my job is seeing the passion and pride that our volunteers put into their work so that kids can simply enjoy playing the game,” Geister said.
In his 11 years with P.L.A.Y., Geister has seen the program change, grow and improve. Ten years ago, Prior Lake’s middle schools terminated multiple sports, and P.L.A.Y. took over. As the program expanded and the Prior Lake/Savage population grew, the organization began encountering greater parent expectations and increased behavior issues. Geister started implementing player and parent code-of-conduct pledges. When he attended his first PCA presentation shortly after, the message resonated. He rallied the troops within P.L.A.Y. and gathered the support of the school district’s activities director, and Prior Lake became PCA’s first local partner. That was in 2011, prior to the establishment of the PCA-Minnesota chapter.
It’s been a mutually supportive partnership ever since. Prior Lake was instrumental in gathering funds to help bring a PCA chapter to Minnesota and has been a big promoter of PCA’s mission and programs within nearby communities, particularly in the south metro.
Geister works hard to keep the momentum going, increasingly aligning P.L.A.Y. with PCA’s concepts and mission promoting sportsmanship, teamwork, leadership, and integrity. Geister believes learning about both success and failure through competition will benefit the community’s future generations. “What’s most noticeable is the increased awareness and sportsmanship,” he said. “Although difficult at times, we’ve been consistent with adhering to our regulations, and that has allowed people to think twice before acting out.”
He also sees P.L.A.Y. growing with PCA. “We appreciate the support from PCA,” he said. “Anytime PCA offers additional involvement, we accept it and use it. If PCA has a new program to pilot, they know we’re open to trying it. We only have these kids for a short period of time before they move on, so why not try to make it the best experience possible?”
The key to our successes in helping push the PCA initiative is those in the program that are willing to support this - it is truly a village.
The more time Geister spends in youth sports, the more he appreciates the life lessons learned. "It’s funny, when I coached my first child, it was all about teaching the game. When I got to my second child, the game itself didn’t seem as important. I started to understand it’s more about life lessons, including how to handle adversity, than simply getting better at dribbling with your left hand.”
He encourages coaches to focus on their relationship with the kids as much as the game. "There’s nothing wrong with demanding hard work and discipline from kids; a big element of coaching is teaching skills they can use for life.”
Geister believes when kids have the freedom to just play, they grow a passion and foster a creativity that can’t be taught. Today’s youth often don’t get that opportunity. “With everything so organized now, we lose track that kids just want to play for fun sometimes – away from coaches and parents. The creative plays – the between-the-legs dribbles and backward passes – of Pete Maravich and Magic Johnson were learned in backyards and parks with pals, not from a coach.”
Geister is looking forward to watching his grandson play P.L.A.Y. baseball this spring. He’s also been passing along PCA principles to his daughter, who just started coaching in another community. “PCA has turned into a generational thing,” Geister laughed. “My kids really enjoyed their time in P.L.A.Y. sports, and I hope every kid in Prior Lake youth athletics will look back on their time here and remember it as a real good experience."