Q&A: Torre Meeks, Berkeley’s new inclusive recreation coordinator

Torre Meeks has a degree in recreation systems management and experience coaching, teaching and working with people across a wide spectrum of ability.

Torre Meeks has a degree in recreation systems management and experience coaching, teaching and working with people across a wide spectrum of ability. (UC Berkeley photo by Megan Lee)

Berkeley has long been at the forefront of a higher education trend — inclusive collegiate recreation, where everyone gets to play. Berkeley Rec Sports is leading the way with a goalball team for the visually impaired; a yoga class for people with limited mobility; an Inclusive Recreation 101 session for students with disabilities who want to use the Recreational Sports Facility (RSF); and California’s first large-scale collegiate universal locker room.

Now, Berkeley has hired Torre Meeks, 28, as the campus’s new inclusive recreation coordinator. Berkeley News recently talked with Meeks, a Bay Area native who started his job last month at Berkeley Rec Sports, about his goals for this position and why inclusive fitness and sports benefit people of all abilities.

Berkeley News: What primed you for this position?

Torre Meeks: Ever since I was 14 or 15, I’ve worked at summer camps, first as a counselor-in-training, then as a counselor and later as a director — sports camps, a gay and lesbian family camp, Cal Youth Programs and other camps all over the Bay Area. In college at San Diego State, where I studied recreation systems management, I also worked at a local municipal recreation center in nearby El Cajon, where I coached a number of sports teams. Through these experiences, I’ve been able to work with athletes and participants across a wide spectrum of experiences. After college, I was a P.E. and computer science teacher at Aurora School in Oakland, where I also taught in a fourth- and fifth-grade classroom. Aurora accommodates the needs of students with developmental and learning challenges. I’ve always been in situations with people who face challenges and have found success in recreational settings.

I grew up playing baseball and also love basketball, golf, soccer, softball, cycling, climbing and swimming. I understand the benefits that recreation can bring and have always used sports as an outlet when life seems to get hard. I often hop on my bike, hit the gym or rally a group of friends to play some pickup basketball. Playing with others is a huge part of it — competing is less of the draw for me. It’s about working together for a common goal and having fun. Sports have always allowed me to shift my focus away from my worries and onto the task at hand.

Tell us about your new job.

Torre Meeks, UC Berkeley's first inclusive recreation coordinator.

UC Berkeley’s first inclusive recreation coordinator, Torre Meeks introduces Rec Sports members with mobility, hearing, vision and invisible disabilities to the facility’s equipment and programs. (UC Berkeley photo by Megan Lee)

My job as the inclusive recreation coordinator is to ensure that our programs and activities are accessible, accommodating and inclusive for people across the wide range of ability. I aim to expand upon our existing programs, like goalball and CalSTAR yoga, and to bring in new and exciting activities. There are almost endless possibilities for inclusive and adaptive recreation. I plan on hosting events, expos and showcases to highlight some of the amazing games and sports out there. By increasing visibility and exposing all people to these opportunities, we hope to increase participation by students with disabilities, able-bodied students, staff, faculty and community members alike.

I’ve already been diving into meeting people in the community as much as possible to find out about programs that already exist — at BORP (Bay Area Outreach and Recreation Program), the Center for Independent Living and our Disabled Students’ Program and at universities across the country. These are just some examples of community partners who work with the population with disabilities. At UC Berkeley and at Berkeley Rec Sports, in general, there is a lot of pride in celebrating people’s differences, and I’ve already made strong connections in my five weeks on campus. These connections will be a big help as we develop programs.

I’m here to let people know that the programs we offer at Rec Sports aren’t just open to students, staff and faculty, but to the community. We love having local residents join the RSF under our community membership plan.

My new position is just the latest example of Berkeley Rec Sports’ leadership in inclusive collegiate recreation, and we plan to stay at the front of this movement.

At the Recreational Sports Facility, Torre Meeks supports and advances sports and recreation programs for students, staff, faculty and community members.

“Having a full-time inclusive recreation coordinator is just the beginning of Berkeley’s goal of being a leader in this field,” says Torre Meeks. “We aim to be at the front of this movement toward inclusive programs.” (UC Berkeley photo by Megan Lee)

Explain the difference between inclusive sports and adaptive sports.

These terms are often used somewhat interchangeably to describe opportunities for people with disabilities to participate in recreational and competitive activities. Adaptive sports, however, allow for modifications needed by people with disabilities to participate. Some examples of adaptive sports are wheelchair basketball, modified cycling and sitting volleyball.  

What barriers do you hope to break?

One of the largest barriers is the lack of knowledge and awareness of adaptive sports and inclusive programs. Unfortunately, many able-bodied people and people with disabilities simply don’t know they have the opportunity to participate in these fun and exciting sports. For a number of reasons, people with disabilities might not participate or compete. And for many able-bodied people, the idea and concept of playing adaptive sports hasn’t crossed their minds. Our current and future programs will provide people of all abilities with a chance to play together in ways they may have not thought possible. As someone who’s played wheelchair basketball, I can say firsthand that it not only gives you a different perspective, but it’s just downright fun!

There are countless opportunities at Berkeley Rec Sports for program development. Some examples of inclusive programs available around the country range from beep baseball to sit-down volleyball, adaptive climbing, wheelchair basketball, cycling and so much more. My hope is that our programs will offer a number of these activities at both recreational and competitive levels. Many of these sports are recognized and played as Olympic events, and there is no denying where success in these sports can take you in your own personal development and growth as an athlete.

It really helps to have our new universal locker room, which breaks barriers each day. It has ADA-accessible lockers, individual changing rooms and shower stalls and other features helpful to many students, including those with disabilities. And prospective members with physical and non-visible disabilities can get a reduced rate through a CalSTAR membership.

As our programs develop, it’s most important for students, faculty, staff and community members to get involved and try something new. We plan on hosting events where everyone will get to experience playing a variety of sports, so stay tuned!

I’m available to address questions or concerns as inclusive recreation continues to grow its presence on campus. People should check us out online, drop me a line at inclusive.rec@berkeley.edu or come in and say hello at the RSF fitness office.