The Little Pagesfrom Venues Today magazine e-newsletter on Nov. 14, 2007

NFL provides grants for high school turf upgrades

Thanks largely to a $200,000 grant from the National Football League's Grassroots Program, Lane Technical High School in Chicago received a new artificial football field turf to replace its decades-old grass football field. The grant was part of $2.4 million in field upgrades that the program awarded this year to community groups in 20 cities around the country.

The NFL Grassroots Program, created in 1998, aims to provide financial and technical assistance to improve the quality, safety and accessibility of community football fields.

Other communities that the NFL Grassroots Program funded during this round are Baltimore; Brooklyn, N.Y.; Dallas; Detroit; Dickson, Tenn.; Durham, N.C.; East St. Louis, Ill.; Hollywood, Fla.; Houston; Indianapolis; Jacksonville, Fla.; Kansas City; Nashville; Newark, N.J.; Phoenix; Providence, R.I.; St. Paul, Minn.; San Diego and Seattle.

Lane Tech's grant was awarded by the Chicago Bears, the NFL, the NFL Players Association and the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) to Chicago Public Schools. The LISC combines corporate, government and philanthropic resources to help non-profit community development corporations revitalize underserved neighborhoods.

Like many schools that have earned grant money for synthetic field turfs through the NFL Grassroots Program, Lane Tech for years had a grass football field. The new field, unveiled at the beginning of the high school's football season, requires less maintenance.

Grass athletic fields require periods of rest so that the grass can rejuvenate itself, but artificial turf tends to hold up for year-round use. The new field is also expected to be safer, said Calvin Davis, director of sports administration for the Chicago Public Schools.

Stephen Wilkins, project manager for Chicago Public Schools, said, "Students were injured occasionally because of the age of our [grass] field."

The field also is available to the entire Chicago Public Schools system, providing a space for playoff games and other events. Lane Tech has a diverse student body, with 59 percent from low-income households.

The total cost of improvements to the Lane Tech football field was $600,000, and the $200,000 grant was a big help, said Marie Goss, chairperson of the Lane Tech Fields of Dreams Committee, a fundraising committee for the high school. "The general community is just thrilled" about the new field, she said.

State grants covered $40,000, and the remaining costs were covered by the Chicago Public Schools and its partner organizations, including the Lane Tech Football Booster Club, the Fields of Dreams Committee, the Lane Tech Century Foundation, the Chicago Force and the Chicago Park District.

Since the NFL Grassroots program was formed, it has provided more than $17 million to help community organizations build or rebuild more than 150 youth fields in more than 40 cities, usually in underserved urban neighborhoods.

A vacant lot of about 38 acres is the future site of the Sports Park for Amateur Recreation in King County (SPARK), Wash. The SPARK facility, a $12 million dollar project and a visionary outdoor sports venue for youth and amateur sports, will feature five synthetic fields and will be used for youth football, rugby, lacrosse, field hockey and soccer.

Although the ground-breaking process hasn't begun yet at the site, the Northwest Parks Foundation in Woodinville, Wash., is grateful for a $200,000 NFL Grassroots Program grant that will help kick-start the building process, said Kristen Bush, executive director of the Northwest Parks Foundation, a private non-profit corporation founded in 2002 to address the lack of funding for regional sports fields, recreation facilities and parks.

Bush said that before the building process begins, three dilapidated homes would have to be demolished. She said that the grant is helping the group to improve a difficult area and create a better place.

The SPARK facility is centrally located between Seattle and Tacoma, and it would help serve many areas struggling to provide playfields for their citizens. In the case of Covington (population of 14,000 with nearly 40 percent under age 24), there isn't one city-owned playfield of any type, and the school district fields are insufficient to provide a venue for fostering youth football programs. Also, a 2005 report indicated that more than 30,000 children under 18 are growing up in poverty in South King County.

Besides NFL Grassroots funding, Northwest Parks Foundation raised funds and secured financial support from King County Parks & Recreation and Scarsella Brothers Inc.

Like the Lane Tech community in Chicago, athletes, band members and other community members at Ben Davis High School in Indianapolis have been enjoying a new synthetic field turf that the high school installed after it won a $200,000 grant from the NFL Grassroots Program. The turf replaced a heavily used grass field.

Mike Kirschner, head football coach at Ben Davis High School, said the grass field got "way overused," with varsity, junior varsity and junior high football programs, band members and others constantly using it. "It takes a beating in the process," he said about the old field.

With the synthetic field turf, though, Kirschner said, "It gets used constantly, but now there's no wear and tear."

Kirschner said that the school's grant proposal highlighted that the school has a largely lower-class and lower middle class community, and he said the new field is a boost for the economics and is "something the community can be proud of."

To get the NFL Grassroots Program rolling each year, the NFL and LISC invite all qualified non-profit organizations in NFL markets to submit proposals for funding. Then the LISC reviews the proposals, asks follow-up questions and visits the sites of organizations that are finalists. The LISC then makes recommendations to the NFL, which then makes final funding decisions. The LISC and local NFL teams collaborate, and the LISC oversees the flow of funding and ensures that projects move in a timely manner.