Author: Mary Susan Littlepage
Date: November 14,2007

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. —Mary Susan LittlepageInterviewed for this
story: Marie Goss, (312) 856-8275; Stephen Wilkins and Calvin
Davis, (773) 553-3793; Mike Kirschner, (317) 227-4183; Clare Graff
with the NFL, (212) 450-2435; Kristen Bush, (425) 284-0420