New Mankato Sports Commission director has nice gig

MANKATO — Although Joy Leafblad started her new position only two weeks ago, she’s convinced she’s landed in a pretty good situation.

Leafblad is the new director of the Mankato Sports Commission, which is an arm of Greater Mankato Growth, Inc. She’s still feeling her way around office (which, by the way, just moved to the Graif Building located across from the Verizon Center) and she’s already enjoying herself.

“When you think about it, it’s a great job,” she said. “I get to go around and tell everyone how great Mankato is.”

According to her official job description, Leafblad’s mission is to focus on “raising the profile of Greater Mankato as a premier sports destination by aggressively promoting the destination’s existing resources and by targeting events that will generate a positive economic impact for the community.”

Whew, that’s a mouthful.

In plain english, it means Leafblad’s job is to sell the city. Her goal is to entice outside entities to hold their events in Mankato.

“With all the trails and bike paths and sports facilities it’s not a difficult sell,” she said. “Mankato has a lot to offer.”

Leafblad, who replaces Chris Willaert who held the post for the last three years, has been previously employed as the Mankato Family YMCA wellness director, the Morris Regional Fitness Center general manager and the Loyola University Chicago Campus Recreation associate director. More recently, she served as the Lloyd Management assistant property manager/site manager.

Anna Thill, the president of Visit Mankato which oversees the sports commission, says Leafblad is well qualified.

 “Joy comes to Visit Mankato and the Mankato Sports Commission with a tremendous amount of skills and experience,” Thill said. “(She has) 20 years in program and event development.”

Selling Mankato is just part of Leafblad’s job.

The director is also charged with helping local groups that want to start or grow an event but are facing roadblocks, such as lighting for a field or maintenance on facilities.

Leafblad is also expected to manage the events Greater Mankato Growth, Inc., owns and operates. Those include, among others, the upcoming Senior Games and the Mankato Marathon.

Also under Leafblad’s purview is guiding the various volunteer groups on the Sports Commission. “We have a lot of volunteers and subgroups, from Wiffle ball to awards banquets,” Thill said.

Leafblad admits there are probably other responsibilities she has yet to learn about.

“It’s been a whirlwind since I began,” she said. “With learning about the job and the moving to the new office space, it’s been nonstop.

“It’s challenging but that’s a good thing. I’m looking forward to working with all the organizations and individuals we deal with on a regular basis.”

Jim Rueda is The Free Press Sports Editor. Follow him on twitter @JimRueda

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