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Feb. 18, 2021

Northwest alumnus named on National Recreation and Park Association’s 30 under 30

By Sidney Lowry, communication assistant


Matthew Denton

Matthew Denton

Matthew Denton, a 2017 Northwest Missouri State University graduate, recently was named to the National Recreation and Park Association’s (NPRA) inaugural 30 under 30 list for exceptional work in the parks and recreation field.

More than 100 people from 29 different states were nominated for the list.

“It was unexpected, and it took a bit for it to sink in,” Denton said. “To think about how large the pool was and the fact that I got picked was an honor. I felt honored and blessed that the hard work paid off.” 

Denton manages the day-to-day parks maintenance and recreation division. He also is leading improvements of the community’s 10 parks through the completion of a parks and recreation master plan. Recent improvements include updates to Smithville’s 83-site campground, restroom renovations and adding livestreaming capability at baseball fields.

Denton also is a member of NRPA and serves as sports section treasurer and the Region 1 membership chair for the Missouri Recreation and Park Association.

After studying sports management at Central Methodist University in Fayette, Missouri, Denton was looking for graduate assistantships and a master’s program in 2015 when James Hinson, Northwest’s former director of student recreation, recommended he apply to the University. Denton was accepted and worked at Northwest’s Student Recreation Center as the campus recreation graduate assistant.

“When I was looking at graduate assistantships in campus recreation, I was applying all around, but I always knew I wanted to stay close to Missouri,” Denton said. “When the opportunity to go to Northwest came about, I was excited to join a University with a great recreation program.”

Denton attributes his preparation for the recreation field to his Northwest experience. He took advantage of opportunities to work with campus intramurals, which prepared him for his work in Smithville.

“When I did the transition over to youth and adult programs, it was an easy move as the work was the same, just different clienteles,” Denton said. “My time as the campus recreation graduate assistant prepared me for what I do now. It made for an easy transition, and I don’t think it would have been as easy without the experiences I had while at Northwest.”

Northwest places a high emphasis on profession-based learning to help graduates get a jumpstart on their careers and that helped Denton prepare for a new career after completing his degree. Additionally, he benefited from the support of faculty in Northwest’s School of Health Science and Wellness.

“I liked working with different professors like Dr. (Tyler) Tapps, Dr. (Augustus) Hallmon and Dr. (Terry) Long,” Denton said. “They were great professors, and they were so knowledgeable. When it came to finding the right job, I was in their offices to find which direction to take. When I started to mention that parks and rec was the direction that I wanted to take and that was my end goal, they set me up with all the right contacts, looked over résumés and cover letters, and wrote my recommendation letters. I owe them a lot for all the help they gave me.”

In just over two years, Denton has met his goal of becoming a parks and recreation director.

“I want to take advantage of this opportunity and create some great parks for this community,” Denton said of his work in Smithville. “Besides helping this community, I want to still shine light on our state and national organizations by volunteering for different positions.”

He says Northwest exposed him to the resources, people and real-life experiences he needed to help him be successful in the field. 

“I have great relationships with all the professors at Northwest and some students that worked for me when I was a grad student,” Denton said. “It was a great opportunity to go to Northwest, and I’m glad that someone reached out to me to apply there. It was definitely worthwhile.”


Media contact:

Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager | mhorn@nwmissouri.edu | 660.562.1704