STC contest winners overcome obstacles to enhance childhood fitness

Proving there are no limits on the human spirit, the two Grand Prize Winners of the Synthetic Turf Council’s 2011 Search for the Real Field of Dreams Contest – Taylor’s Dream Boundless Playground in Fort Wayne, Indiana and Van Horn High School in Independence, Missouri – overcame numerous obstacles to provide local youth with opportunities to play outside, enjoy sports and build self-esteem.

“Our annual contest recognizes synthetic turf athletic fields, parks and playgrounds in the U.S. and Canada that have made an exceptional impact on their local communities,” said Rick Doyle, President of the Synthetic Turf Council.  “Their inspirational stories showcase how perseverance can make any dream come true.”

Four years ago, an 11-year-old named Taylor Reuille in Fort Wayne, Indiana realized that kids with disabilities couldn’t enjoy nearby playgrounds.  She was determined to bring a “boundless playground” to the community, a truly inclusive space where children of all abilities gain the important developmental and physical benefits of unstructured play.  Her dream became a reality when the Fort Wayne Parks & Recreation Department opened Taylor’s Dream Boundless Playground in June 2011. The stable synthetic grass is ADA accessible, allowing wheelchairs, braces, and other assistive equipment to access the facility easily and safely.  Now thousands of children and adults with disabilities have the chance to play with their peers.

Van Horn High School in Kansas City, Missouri was a failing school with a high dropout rate, low test scores, truancy, and a neglected athletic program that hadn’t played a home football or soccer game in 37 years. Following an election and a court battle, Van Horn and six other schools were annexed into the Independence, Missouri school district in 2007. After getting the academic programs on track, the system installed a new synthetic turf field. Having a place to play and practice sports has helped grades increase and the school now boasts a 95% graduation rate.  “This field is something for the community to rally behind,” said Jason Dial, Assistant Superintendent of the Independence School District. “Not only can we now host home games, it gives the school a new face and a new culture. It will allow the community to be a part of the school.”

In addition to the two Grand Prize Winners, outstanding synthetic turf fields were honored in both an Athletic Fields and a Community Parks and Fields category. Notre Dame Academy in Park Hills, Kentucky was named the Top Winner in the Athletic Fields Category. The 100-year-old all girls’ high school never had their own athletic field, causing coaches, students and parents to scramble for places to play and practice sports.  The new synthetic turf field immediately opened the door to participation for dozens of young women, engendered achievement and expanded playing time in the community.

National Finalist Ridgeland High School in Rossville, Georgia also faced its share of challenges, including a previous field that fell into decline.  Since installing their new synthetic field, the team won another regional championship in 2010 and advanced to the state playoffs.

Canyon De Chelly Elementary School in Chinle, Arizona, a Navajo Nation school, was named Top Winner in the Community Parks and Fields Category for their new synthetic grass playground, which gives students the opportunity to play on a soft grass-like surface in the desert climate.  Since more than 30% of the Navajo population is diabetic, the new playground comes at a time when many recognize the importance of exercise for better health. National Finalist honors went to the City of Lakeland Parks & Recreation Department in Lakeland, Florida for Sunflower Preschool Playground in Barnett Family Park.  As the first multi-colored grass playground nationwide, the unique  playground  provides thousands of toddlers and their families age-appropriate developmental play experiences, accessibility for strollers and wheelchairs, and a creative play space to spark the imagination.