Right on track

Kiwanis revitalizes a run-down sports facility, energizing kids with a high-tech place to play.

Story and photos by Curtis Billue

The grandest plans often go undone. They live in one’s head, in the dusty attic of the mind, stored away for the right timing, or when there’s more money, locked by doubt or the limits of one’s belief. The plans are beautiful dreams, but sometimes no more than that.

In Brantford, Ontario, three determined people shared a dream and, with Kiwanis action, made it come true.

A welcoming sight

On a video, submitted to win an Aviva Community Fund grant, past and present students as well as community members look into the camera and say they believe in the “Field of Dreams”: the Pauline Johnson Collegiate and Vocational School’s proposal to revitalize their back campus.

The camera switches between images of people and the condition of the field. The grass is rough. The track is made of gravel, sand and bare dirt, with no marked lanes or numbers, just a broken concrete border along the inside edge.

The soccer and football goal posts are peeling and chipped. The low-rise, temporary bleachers with faded, warped planks and the rusty, 55-gallon metal drum trashcans sink into the scrubby grass.

The weathered and worn, wooden scoreboard is frozen at zeros and, like the rest of the field’s amenities, has seen better days. 

Melanie Kraemer, teacher at Pauline Johnson, headed the push for the grant. They won the voting rounds, but the judging panel gave them second place.

“It entitled us to nothing, which is a little disappointing,” she says. “But we came back and talked to one of the Kiwanians and that’s where the ball got rolling.”

From left to right: Neal Stamer and Melanie Kraemer, teachers at Pauline Johnson Collegiate and Vocational School, stand proud with Kiwanis member Crystal Glaves on the Kiwanis Field track. 

Neal Stamer, another teacher at Pauline Johnson, says it all started as a dream for the faculty.

“And Kiwanis was very good at helping us refine that dream and make it more of a goal,” he says.

Once Kiwanis started to believe in it, Stamer adds, they brought the school board in as a partner. The school board then brought in the city.

“So really, without Kiwanis there is no facility, none at all,” he says.

“I think the city saw all the positive feedback and the positive community involvement, and that’s when they decided to join the project,” says Crystal Glaves, past president of the Kiwanis Club of Brantford and chair of the Kiwanis field project at the time.

“It snowballed into a second field done by the city right after this one, and a third one being planned,” says Glaves.

“So we like to take credit for that,” she says, laughing.

There were a few others — members of parliaments, city council and school board — who were early believers in the dream, but it was Kiwanis who gave them the first step. And according to Stamer, it gave everybody that sense of “Oh, we’re good to go now.”

As with most long-term projects, there were hurdles to overcome. Businesses and supporting communities had their own schedules. Occasionally, the funding would stop, leading to a collective holding of the breath.

“It was an exercise in patience and perseverance,” says Stamer. “We had to keep working and understand that there are going to be these ups and downs, but as long as you keep your eyes on the finish line, it was going to come to fruition.”

After a six-year process and raising US$3.5 million from 150 different organizations and individuals, the Kiwanis Field is a reality.

Kiwanis Field

Thermoplastic elastomer. Those two words — also called TPE — may not mean much to most people, but to a high school football player they are a really big deal. 

In the past, extreme weather and wear would render the field unusable for part of the season, turning the old field into a mud puddle. That led to no spring practices and end-of-season game cancellations.

The new field is made of TPE, one of the most advanced synthetic turfs in the world, durable and safe. It is used by many NFL facilities like the New Orleans Saints and Denver Broncos’ arenas.

Add in the lights for night games, a professional eight-lane rubberized track, permanent bleachers with railings, locker rooms, press box and an electronic scoreboard, and one sees why there’s so much excitement surrounding the new campus.

Local sports teams now have a place to play. Who comes? High school football, regional soccer clubs, many levels of track and field events (including Special Olympics), provisional lacrosse championships, rugby teams and Ultimate Frisbee enthusiasts from the university.

“In the spring, we’ll have two soccer teams out here, two rugby teams and baseball trying to practice in the corner,” says Kraemer. “And you see every inch of the field being used. Kids want to be out here.”

A breath of fresh air

This past year during the annual Terry Fox Run for cancer research, there were 1,300 elementary kids running on the track.

“We’re seeing growth in track and field interests,” she says. “This (track) inspires kids to do more, to compete. We had a very low number of track and field athletes, now we have kids competing at all levels.”

Stamer says the track and field have “refreshed the school” and brought about a new energy.

“I think the city saw all the positive feedback and the positive community involvement, and that’s when they decided to join the project.”— Crystal Glaves, past president, Kiwanis Club of Brantford

“The kids love the fact they have it, and our classes find opportunities to host things,” Stamer says. “So it’s part of the school, part of the community, part of the city. It’s amazing how many different areas it touches.

“For the school, it has been a shot in the arm, a breath of fresh air.”

One of Neal Stamer’s favorite facts is that Kiwanis didn’t just cut a check, put their name on it and leave. Through this project, Kiwanis became a strong part of the school community.

“Our kids know about Kiwanis and the contributions they made, and continue to make, not just the field, but all the elementary schools,” he says.

For Kiwanian Crystal Glaves, it’s about seeing what is needed and making it available.

“That’s how you can help be a better part of your community,” she says. “That’s what Kiwanis likes to do.”

All three agree that it’s surprising how much you can accomplish when you put your mind to it.

“When you set a goal and have a lot of people driving toward one goal,” he says, “then you can achieve some pretty amazing things.”

This story originally appeared in the April/May 2019 issue of Kiwanis magazine.

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