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Allan V. Sapora

1912 - 2004

Inducted October 2015

 "When stability during times of change was needed, it was usually Doc Sapora that people turned to."
~Peter A. Witt

Dr. Allan Sapora was a giant in the field of park and recreation education and research. His career at the University of Illinois, and his efforts with NRPA, AAPRA and many other state, national, and international organizations distinguish "Doc" Sappora as a distinguished member of the Hall of Fame.

Sappora was introduced to the recreation as a Playground Director Supervisor at hte Hellgate Playground in Astoria, Long Island, New York, and as a Community Center Leader at the 79th Street Presbyterian Church in New York City. His interest in wrestling and family ties led him to enroll at the University of Illinois, where he graduated with the highest honors. He was Big Ten and NCAA Wrestling champion and received the Big Ten Conference Medal as the school's most outstanding athlete-scholar. He also earned a M.S. in 1940 from the University of Illinois. 

Sapora served in the military during WWII (Lt. Colnel), including time as a Special Service Officer in charge of Inter-Allied Comeptitive Sports Program for the entire European Theater wher he was in charge of providing recreation for 15,000 men in Europe. After the war, Sapora completed his PhD at the University of Michigan in Physical Education with an emphasis in public recreation (Dissertation: "The Contributions of Joseph Lee to the Recreation and Related Social Movements in the United States").

He initiated the recreation degree programs at the University of Illinois in 1948 by writing its first undergraduate recreation curriculum and worked with Dr. Charles Brightbill beginning in 1951 to create on eof the preeminent park and recreation education programs in North America. Many of the curricular elements introduced by Sapora became the basis for the establishment of other programs around the country. He served as undergraduate, research, and graduate program coordinaros from 1952 to 1966. Sapora was the person who made the day-to-day functioning of the program work. He also devoted considerable time to working with professional organizations to develop the park and recreation field of pracitce and build strong relationships between practitioners and academics. 

After Brightbill's death, Sapora went on to serve as Head of the Department of Recreation and Park Administration from 1966-73 as well as Acting Dean of the College of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation in 1973. He came out of retirement to reprise this service in 1981. When stability during times of change was needed, it was usually Doc Sapora that people turned to.

Among Sapora's significant contributions to the field at large was his promotion of research as vital to our understanding of leisure and development of systems to provide park and recreation services. As department head, he hired aseries of faculty who brought inter-disciplinary expertise to the study of play, recreation, and leisure. He also created the Office of Recreation and Park Resources (ORPR) at the University to provide Extension and outreach for the departmetns programs to practitioners in the field. The ORPR model was subsequently adopted by several other park and recreation programs and land-grant universities.

While at Illinois he conducted numerous community park and recreation surveys in Illinois and other states. In 1998 the Rockford Park District dedicated “The Sapora Playworld,” in deep appreciation to ‘Doc Sapora’ whose vision, creativity, and leadership helped develop the Rockford Park District."   

Sapora’s work within the field was significant and well recognized. Between 1962 and 1987 he was awarded approximately $350,000 in grants. He completed 84 papers and presentations and wrote eleven books including The Theory of Play and Recreation with E. O. Mitchell, which was required reading for all recreation and park students for over 20 years. He also authored The Recreation Program, Standards for Health, Physical Education and Intramurals for U.S. Universities.

Sapora’s expertise was known around the world in regions as far-reaching as Zurich, Leningrad, and South Africa. Over a number of years he played a significant role in the development of the park and recreation system in Hungry.   

Sapora was active in advancing the status of the field. He was on numerous NRPA committees, played a significant role in the creation of the Journal of Leisure Research, and was involved in efforts that led to the merging of organizations that created NRPA.  

The principal impetus for the Academy of Leisure Sciences (ALS) came from a group of four former Presidents of the Society of Park and Recreation Educators (SPRE). At a meeting in Miami in 1978, Professors Doc Sapora, along with Edward Heath and Leslie Reid (Texas A&M), and Douglas Sessoms (North Carolina) formulated the Academy's goals and structure.  Sapora was also a founding member of the American Academy of Park and Recreation Administrators (AAPRA).

Over his career, Sapora was also a Trustee and Vice-President of NRPA; President of the College Recreation Association; President and Fellow of the Illinois Park and Recreation Association; Vice President and Fellow of the Society of Park and Recreation Educators, Fellow of the American Park and Recreation Society; and a Fellow of the Illinois Association of Park Districts.  

Besides being named a fellow for many professional societies, Sapora received numerous awards and honors including the J. B. Nash Scholar Award, the National Distinguished Professional Award from NRPA, and the American Association for Leisure and Recreation Honor Award. Further commemorating his work is the Allen V. Sapora Research Award established by the University of Illinois Department of Leisure Studies in 1985. The award is presented annually for excellence in research that makes a significant contribution to the knowledge base of the parks, recreation and leisure profession. 

Above all else, “Doc” Sapora was a class act.  He was an ambassador for the field, a mentor to students, faculty and professionals in the field, a role model for how to conduct oneself in daily life, and an individual who imparted compassion and understanding to his students and colleagues.

In all respects, Dr. Allan V. Sapora meets the criteria for induction into the Hall of Fame and measures favorably to those who have already been enshrined.  Doc contributed greatly to furthering the field through development of park and recreation educational programs, championing the importance of research to support theory and practice, and connecting university faculty to community and state park and recreation programs through outreach and service. Doc seldom touted his own accomplishments or sought personal recognition.  But, those who knew him, understood that the park and recreation field had no greater champion that Dr. Allan V. Sapora. 

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