Everyday Legend

Marlenni Laureano

On Tuesday, Aug 17, 2021 we will be honoring coaches like Marlenni with an amazing opportunity to participate in an upcoming training series in partnership with Laureus USA! Register today to join us as we push the boundaries of youth sports!

When most people think of Chicago sports legends, names like Michael Jordan, Mike Ditka, or Candace Parker get thrown into the ring.

When we think of Chicago sports legends, another special name comes to mind: Marlenni Laureano.

Laureano grew up in Chicago and participated in Chicago Park District programming from the time she was 7 years old.

“I grew up what they call us kids growing up in the park, ‘park rats’,” Laureano said, chuckling. “That was like my second home.”

Laureano is now the Program and Events Coordinator for the Athletic Department in the Chicago Parks District, one of the biggest park districts in the nation with over 300 staffed parks.

“One of my biggest inspirations was my old boss, Melody Mitchell,” Laureano said. “She was actually my coach when I was a kid in the parks and that’s how I started working as a seasonal [employee].”

Prior to her current role, Laureano was an activities instructor and coach within the Chicago Parks District with a focus on girls programming.

As a woman and an athlete herself, she knows there is nothing that can hold back girls and women from doing whatever they want to do, even in the frustrating moments when it seems you aren’t being taken seriously by your peers.

“Introducing girls to a sport at a level where they just see it as fun definitely helps inspire girls to keep playing and keep wanting to play, even if they don’t want to be competitive,” Laureano said. “They can play a sport and not be competitive. They can play a sport and not have to be a winner or loser.”

After 15 years working for the park district—four of those as a seasonal worker in high school —and earning her master’s degree in Sports Fitness and Rec Leadership this year, Laureano says there’s no other place for her than the Parks District.

“I used to work for Chicago Public Schools, and I worked in the Parks, so I was working two jobs at once,” Laureano said. “I would work a full hour day at Chicago Public Schools then I’d go and coach practices. I’d end up working 14-hour days every day. I was burnt out.”

She thought about canceling some of her classes at the Parks to decrease her workload.

“But then when I thought about it, I thought about my girls and how I was going to be affecting them and I think that’s what kept me going and pushing through,” she said.

She did this, not for herself, but for her girls in the same way that leaders like Melody Mitchelle had done for her.

“I felt like if I was to stop my programming or not have practices or not have the girls come in as often as they did, I could lose them to…becoming lazy or not being inspired anymore,” she said.

Her contributions didn’t stop at programming. Laureano would cheerfully make sure “her girls” were able to get to and from their activities at the park safely with everything they needed, even when that meant she was walking them home, calling ubers, and buying supplies.

“As I was seeing their faces every day, I was like ‘alright come on, let’s do this.’”

And it paid off. Just 6 months later, Laureano was promoted within the Parks District and was able to leave Chicago Public Schools to work at the parks full time – a full circle moment for a girl who had grown up spending countless hours at her local parks.

Although Laureano’s education and years of experience would allow her to avenue into roles like sports manager or athletics director at a school, she said there’s no better place for her right now than the Chicago Parks District.

“I love what I do at my park,” Laureano said, “and I would love to keep growing in the parks and provide more girls programming.”

We at CHJS honor everyday legends like Marlenni Laureano, who know that nothing heals like sport.