SPORTS: There's more than one new football field in town

September 8, 2008

Just a few miles north of Lucas Oil Stadium, where the Colts are to meet the Chicago Bears in their NFL opener, another new football field was seeing its first official action over the weekend.

And yes, there is a direct link between the two, as well as the same sense of profound satisfaction that this new field, like LOS, will make a positive and long-lasting difference in our community.

Tabernacle Presbyterian Church's youth sports ministry-our own little Miracle on 34th Street, better known as "Tab"-has been touching the lives of youngsters more than 80 years.

Many a young man or young lady has entered a Tab sports program and exited on the other side far better for the experience. Quite a few have gone on to exceptional careers. Sen. Richard Lugar was one, Gov. Mitch Daniels another.

Certainly, the demographic of the Mapleton-Fall Creek neighborhood that Tab primarily serves has changed significantly over the years. Now, it is mostly African-American, and mostly poor; its youth is a segment often forgotten or overlooked.

But not by Tab.

And so, on the weekend Lucas Oil Stadium opens officially downtown, a new Evans Field will be dedicated and opened uptown. An amazing amalgamation of people, organizations and resources has made possible the installation of a new artificial turf football and soccer field, as well as new lights, fencing and, soon, outbuildings to handle concessions, storage, meeting space and spectator seating.

To call it a field of dreams seems trite, but I can't think of a better way to describe it.

"It sounds sappy," said Mark Lubbers, a local business and political consultant who has joined hundreds to make the new field happen, "but it's like God is chairman of this committee."

It all started with a conversation between former Colt Tarik Glenn and former Tab Sports Director John Byers, who is now Indiana Sports Corp.'s vice president for youth programming. Then Glenn had another conversation with Kevin Walbridge of Republic Services.

That led to an eventual application for an NFL Football Fields grant. Didn't know there was such a thing? Neither did I. But the NFL has something called the Grassroots Program, the goal of which is to provide "non-profit, neighborhood-based organizations with financial and technical assistance to improve the quality, safety, and accessibility of local football fields."

Thus, without the presence of the Colts and the NFL in Indianapolis, the new field at Tab simply wouldn't have happened. That's the direct link. The grant-for $200,000-was funneled through and approved by the Local Initiatives Support Corp., which manages the program for the NFL.

Still, the NFL grant wouldn't begin to cover the total. Walbridge twisted arms-and, some say, legs-to enlist the help of others, who did so at no cost.

"He was like the Pied Piper," Lubbers said. "He was just amazing in the number of subcontractors he brought into this thing."

John Peterson of City Securities, whose father J. Dwight Peterson founded the Tab sports ministry, made a six-figure contribution. The Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust pitched in with another. Glenn's foundation, DREAM Alive, provided a check to fund the site plan done by Ratio architects, and is helping purchase uniforms and equipment. The field supplier, Field Turf, reduced the cost of the playing surface more than half by allowing Walbridge's contractors to do the site preparation.

Understand, it will be much more than a football field for Tab participants, though there are more than 200 (ages 7-12) enrolled in the Tab program. Flag football, cheerleading, softball, soccer, lacrosse and track (there's a five-lane, 100-meter rubberized track) also will take place at Evans Field.

The neighborhood benefits, too. Nearby Shortridge Middle School will use the field. So will IPS School 48, as will a preschool exercise program and neighbors.

"What this shows the neighborhood and the kids is that Tab and many community leaders are interested in investing in the neighborhood at a level perhaps seen only in the suburbs," said Ben Hughes, Tab's recreation director.

While Evans Field will be the outdoor centerpiece, it's important to note that Tab is a year-round program that provides sports opportunities for nearly 2,000 youth with the help of almost 300.

That moved Byers to note, wistfully, "You know, at some point, if we can raise the money, we're going to need a new gym."

Benner is associate director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. Listen to his column via podcast at www.ibj.com. He can be reached at bbenner@ibj.com. Benner also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.
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