The NFL will award $2.5 million in grants for new or refurbished football fields in 15 cities, including one in Clearwater.
Jack Russell Memorial Stadium, in Clearwater's North Greenwood community, will get a new grass football field thanks to a $100,000 grant from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers through the National Football League Grassroots Program, it was announced Thursday.
Clearwater for Youth Inc. will develop the new field with fencing and lighting. It will be used by youths in the Greenwood Panther football and cheerleading program, participants in the Buccaneers' Play 60 program and 2,000 community residents. The Bucs and the city are planning a groundbreaking ceremony for early September.
The stadium was the venue for Philadelphia Phillies spring training baseball games for 49 years, but the Phillies built and moved into Brighthouse Network Field in 2004.
"The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are committed to the development of Central Florida youth through both mind and body," Bucs head coach Greg Schiano said in a news release by the team. "The team proudly promotes the importance of physical fitness, and it is our hope that this football field will provide the community's youth with a place to enjoy athletics in a safer, more structured environment for years to come."
Money also will go to schools, parks and other facilities in Atlanta; Spartanburg, S.C.; Chicago; Alexandria, Ky.; Grafton, Ohio; Pueblo, Colo.; Detroit; West Allis, Minn.; New Orleans; Newark, N.J.; Philadelphia; Penn Hills, Pa.; Madison, Tenn.; and Washington D.C.
Teams whose markets will benefit from the other grants are the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers, Tennessee Titans and Washington Redskins.
"Community fields are the pillars of neighborhoods across the country, places where families can 'play 60' together in a safe environment," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said.
The program is a partnership between the league and the Local Initiatives Support Corporation and is part of a 14-year, $32.5 million commitment the NFL has made through its grassroots program. So far, 256 football fields nationwide have been constructed or renovated.
"Health and safety in sports should be a priority at every level," NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said. "The field improvements made by this important program will be a tremendous benefit to active youth across the country. The players of the NFL also applaud these nonprofits for their work to better our communities."
Shortly after it was selected, the city of Spartanburg's Park & Recreation superintendent, Brian Wofford, was killed in an auto wreck. The Woodson Rec Center was one of the facilities under his direction and Wofford played on the field that will be refurbished.