Behind FD Moon Middle School is an empty excavated field and a concrete slab.
But Fields & Futures chairman Tim McLaughlin, co-owner of OKC Energy FC, sees a space full of opportunity.
This summer, the nonprofit is renovating the grounds of seven colleges, all impacted by consolidations in the Oklahoma City School District.
Some of the facilities, including FD Moon, are former elementary schools reconfigured to serve fifth through eighth grades. With an older age group, there needs to be sports programs and on-site sports facilities, not empty, unmarked fields.
“What really excites us is the end result of having kids on teams and putting coaches in their lives,” McLaughlin said. “They have to go to school. They have to make their grades, stay out of trouble, stay on the team. We are excited about these things.
The concrete slab behind FD Moon will become a futsal pitch, where athletes can play a compressed version of football that emphasizes footwork and ball control.
Soon, every college in the Oklahoma City district will have one, the result of a Fields & Futures partnership with the US Soccer Foundation, Musco Lighting, 7-Eleven and the Energy Assist Foundation. The cost of installing 10 of these “mini locations” exceeds $500,000, according to a press release from the partnership.
“It doesn’t matter how tall, how fast, how athletic, really,” McLaughlin told The Oklahoman. “Football is the most important sport in the world. It is also one of the greatest unifying sports there is. It doesn’t matter your color, your race, your height, your age. You can play it. So we love that about the power of the game.”
A basketball court will occupy the empty space adjacent to the future FD Moon futsal court. The west side of the field will become a football and soccer field surrounded by a track. Later this year, construction will begin on a softball field on the far east side of the property, pending funding.
Fields & Futures is in the midst of its most ambitious project since it began upgrading and maintaining Oklahoma City public school grounds in 2012.
The non-profit organization improved 22 fields in its first seven years. Now he manages eight field renovation projects in a single summer.
Heavy rains in May delayed construction progress, so projects will likely continue through the first half of the school year, McLaughlin said.
A group of construction companies, corporate partners, the Oklahoma County Board of Commissioners and the District have dedicated resources to the Fields & Futures initiative. Energy FC donates $2 on every ticket sold to the organization.
“It’s millions of dollars, and a school doesn’t have millions of dollars to do that for sports fields,” district athletic director Todd Dilbeck said. “But, with the collaboration of a lot of people with the schools, it allows us to make Oklahoma City a very special place.”
The original goal of Fields & Futures was to boost athletic participation in district schools, McLaughlin said. Then he learned that the impact of athletics was much deeper.
After improving the fields at Jefferson Middle School, Fields & Futures surveyed 65 of the school’s female athletes. Since playing team sports, 91% of girls said they were more motivated to go to school, 94% were more motivated to stay academically eligible, and 84% had better grades.
The survey found that nearly all athletes aspired to go to college, and 80% were more likely to say no to drugs and alcohol.
Three-quarters of girls said team sports made them happier.
Today, the organization hopes to inspire even bigger goals: higher graduation rates, fewer discipline issues, and better school attendance.
FD Moon Principal Gloria Anderson said athletic programs will help the school identify student leaders and drive classroom achievement.
Students are encouraged to remain academically eligible for sports with a “no pass, no play” policy, said Anderson, a former track athlete and state championship-winning coach.
“It absolutely builds confidence in all areas,” Anderson said. “You have to work hard for it, and you work hard in a classroom. All of these things perpetuate and combine to make a successful student. I believe him.