The Westerville Parks and Recreation Department has brought home the gold.

The Westerville Parks and Recreation Department has brought home the gold.

The department earned its third consecutive National Recreation and Parks Association Gold Medal at the group's conference in Dallas Oct. 8. It's the first parks system in the country to win the award three times in a row.

"We're speechless. It's just an amazing honor for our citizens and our community," said Randy Auler, Westerville Parks and Recreation Department director.

"It's our Super Bowl, and we did it," Auler said. "It's just a testament to how great our city is.

"To win it back-to-back-to-back is just unprecedented. We're just very ecstatic."

Westerville, which prides itself on being a "city within a park," was named a finalist in the competition earlier this year, along with Doral, Fla.; St. Charles, Ill.; and Winter Park, Fla.

To be considered for the award, a panel of judges conducted a statistical comparison of the communities, visited the department's website and considered a questionnaire completed by the departments.

The questions focused on how the departments meet their communities' needs, play leadership roles in their communities, address challenges, involve citizens, serve special populations, and act as cultural and environmental stewards.

Departments also had to demonstrate how they have implemented industry innovations in the last three years and provide situational challenges and how they were addressed.

"The application gives the judges a comprehensive look at your department and more importantly, how you serve your community and how you make your community a better place to live," Auler said.

A big issue for Westerville, Auler said, was bound to be the community support of the department: 93 percent of residents use parks and recreation services.

"Our community values what we do, and we can't do what we do without our residents," Auler said. "It's just the total package where everyone comes together and really makes Westerville a great place."

Mayor Kathy Cocuzzi went with the Westerville delegation to accept the award last week, and she said it was an exciting moment for Westerville.

She said she hopes the award helps residents see the value in the support they give the parks and recreation department through the quarter-percent income tax they pay directly to the department.

Even with a third consecutive award in hand, Auler said the department won't stop improving.

The department always has some sort of strategic planning under way, such as the overall comprehensive plan the department undertook in the last year, Auler said.

It's the planning that helps the department move forward in a productive way and maintain excellence, he said.

"The minute you start to think you're great, you've already started declining," said Auler, paraphrasing business expert Jim Collins.

"We will always strive to do better and serve the community better and be innovative and creative," Auler said.