TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – The newly-appointed director of the Tampa Parks and Recreation Department is using her upbringing, experience and love for her hometown to help make a difference in the community.

Tampa’s Williams Park isn’t just a spot to hang out for Sherisha Hills, it’s home.

“I grew up four blocks over,” Hills said. “We’d just come up here and play and just hangout. good memories, family time.”

It’s also where she used to school people in basketball. Hills was a basketball star in the late 90s at the Academy of Holy Names in Tampa. Many in the community witnessed Hills’ greatness, including Alvin Holder, who used to referee her games.

“You could look at her and tell she was going to be special,” Holder said.

She definitely was. Hills got a full scholarship to Notre Dame where she helped get the team to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament. She ended up transferring to the University of Florida, played there, got injured, graduated then got her master’s degree at Nova Southeastern University.

Sherisha Hills playing basketball at Tampa’s Academy of Holy Names

After that, she started working with children.

“I think of work like basketball. It’s practice when I’m in the office, but when I get out in the field, talk to the community, that’s game time,” Hills said.

After working for the YMCA, Hills began working as a manager for the City of Tampa’s Parks and Recreation Department.

“I remember telling my boss four years into that job, ‘I want to be a director of parks,'” Hills recalled.

She said that boss helped her develop a game plan. Hills stuck to it and, in 2020, she was named the director of Tampa’s Parks and Rec. department, which is the third-largest department in the city.

“People always ask, ‘How did you get in parks?’ And I’m like, ‘I started in them,'” she said. “Some of my referees that work for me now, used to referee my games.”

Like Holder.

“We are so elated to have a director of Parks and Recreation from the City of Tampa – it’s been a long time coming and she’s an African-American and she’s a woman,” Holder said.

Hills doesn’t take her position for granted and wants to ensure she serves an example, especially for minority children.

“I was not always fortunate to see someone in a higher position who looks like me, yet I still kept aspiring to be in that position,” she said. “That’s just another goal, to let little Black girls and boys know – hey, there’s someone who looks like me in a position that I want to be in, or higher, and it’s achievable.”

That’s the message she hopes to send to the community in which she loves dearly.

“Just being here and knowing what it meant to me and the impact it had on me, I’m so blessed to have that same impact on the community that I love,” Hills said.

In less than two years, Hills has created new programs that bring S.T.E.M. and baseball opportunities to lower income communities. Her goal is to make sure there’s equality across the board and that every town has the same opportunities despite any hardships.

The Parks and Rec. department offers several free/low cost programs.