A relative newcomer to South Whidbey with organized sports experience is vying against a 10-year incumbent for an open seat on the South Whidbey Parks and Recreation District board of commissioners.
The race includes 47-year-old Freeland resident Bigi Giese and longtime Langley resident and incumbent Matt Simms, 49.
Position 5 is the only contested race on the parks district’s board; the seat carries a four-year term.
Incumbent Simms has lived in Langley for 20 years and has children who have played sports on South Whidbey High School teams. A graduate of the United States Naval Academy, Simms is in the reserves and currently works as a business development manager for Eaton Corporation off-island.
Simms was temporarily brought onto the board of commissioners in 2005 when former commissioner, Carl Westling, took a leave of absence. He was asked to step into a permanent role, but wasn’t able to at the time because he was deployed to Iraq in 2006.
Although stationed in the Middle East for a year, Simms spent time organizing races in the middle of the night “to keep sane.” Alongside another American race organizer, he organized “four or five races” in Iraq comprised of servicemen from the U.S., Canada and Korea, as well as Iraqi citizens. Ultimately, they organized a peace race in downtown Baghdad.
“It was a sense of normalcy,” Simms said. “It was a race in the middle of a war zone where people were clapping on the sidelines. It helped foster community there.”
Maintaining and improving the district’s existing properties while also making sure the district doesn’t bite off more than it can chew is Simms’ top priority. He says continuing to responsibly expand the parks system is his next priority; he’d ideally like to connect the district’s trail systems that snake across the South End.
Making progress on major projects the district has been wrestling with for years is Simms’ third objective. This includes moving forward with the Community Park Campground Project and the aquatics center, the latter being something the two candidates agree on.
Simms says he’d be involved with the parks district regardless of the election outcome. He added he might even vote for his competitor, simply for running for the position.
“Helping people come together in the parks system is why I’ve been doing this since 2005,” Simms said. “If people say they don’t want me to keep doing it as a commissioner, I’ll continue to do it in a volunteer capacity.”
Simms’ challenger declined to be interviewed for this story. Giese did, however, respond to questions this summer shortly after filing for the seat, saying she moved to Freeland from Jacksonville, Fla. more than a year ago and had made a career out of working with organized sports. Giese’s background is in running gymnastics, swim and diving clubs, a role she’s held in various states previously. She’s a former gymnast and diver herself.
Giese was involved in the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, where she was an assistant to the director of artistic gymnastics programs. She was also an assistant director to the director of rhythmic gymnastics at the same Olympic games. Her resume also includes a staff member position for USA Gymnastics from 1999-2005, as well as an ownership role for Sportastiks Gymnastics in Indiana from 2008-2012.
Although Giese only recently moved to the South End, she said in May that she volunteered with her homeowners association in Holmes Harbor as vice president.
Given her past work with gymnastics and aquatics, Giese said she was greatly interested in the public pool discussion. She believes South Whidbey needs an accessible and affordable pool for all local residents to use. Giese hopes to make an impact in an elected official role, but says she’d be happy to volunteer if not elected.
“I’m just hoping to make a difference, whether I’m elected or not,” Giese said in the May story.