Tuesday, Apr 24, 2018
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Grant paves way for turf on east-side football field

NFL program helps junior league, Waite


From left, Ed Langlois of Poggemeyer Design Group; Hugh Grefe, senior executive director of LISC; Mike Smith, president of the East Toledo Junior Football League; Cristina Lorton, Waite High School athletic director, David Yenrick, Waite principal, and Roger Dodsworth of the East Toledo Family Center, gather at Jack Mollenkopf Stadium.

The Blade/Jeremy Wadsworth
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After further review, the ruling on the field is official: The East Toledo Junior Football League has scored a major upgrade to its facility.

Jack Mollenkopf Stadium, home of the Waite Indians and East Toledo Junior Football League, will receive a $100,000 grant from the Cleveland Browns in conjunction with the National Football League Grassroots Program and the Local Initiatives Support Corp.

The grant will be used to refurbish the natural-grass field at the stadium. The East Toledo Junior Football League, which has been in existence for 63 years, has played its games at Mollenkopf stadium for 40 seasons.

An official with the Browns will present the grant today at the league's championship game at 3 p.m. Mike Smith, president of the league, said the field is in rough shape right now.

"I was really happy. It's so great," Mr. Smith said. "We applied for the grant to have a safe field to play on. Now we don't have to worry about getting a foot caught in a rut and twisting an ankle or breaking it. Right now, it has a lot of ruts in it. So we're excited about getting new grass."

More than 400 children ranging in age from 8 to 14 compete in the league. All the players reside in East Toledo. Mr. Smith said each team has about seven coaches, and he estimated that the organization has 100 volunteers.

"A lot of kids have gone thorough this system over the years," said Mr. Smith, who played in the league when he was a youngster.

Chris Lorton, athletic director at Waite High School, called the grant exciting news for the school and community.

The grant through the NFL Grassroots Program is a partnership between the NFL Youth Football Fund and LISC. The groups have renovated 243 football fields across the nation over t13 years.

Hugh Grefe, an official with LISC, said the organization has teamed with the NFL Youth Football Fund to provide $2.5 million in field refurbishment awards this year.

"We were fortunate to have a lot of people step up for us," Mr. Grefe said. "We told everyone who would listen that we sell a lot of Lions and Browns tickets in Toledo, so please remember us. The Browns selected us and we will be forever grateful to them. It was especially essential that matching commitments from local companies such as Lathrop, Waite High School, Poggemeyer Design Group, Maumee Bay Turf Center, and Rowe Chiropractic helped solidify our application."

Browns President Mike Holmgren said the organization was pleased to reach out to northwest Ohio.

"This is a tremendous opportunity for Waite High School and the East Toledo neighborhood," Mr. Holmgren said. "This project further illustrates the Cleveland Browns' commitment to the development of youth football."

LISC identifies neighborhood-based agencies in underserved communities to improve the quality and safety of fields.

"The grass is worn down the middle," Mr. Smith said of the field. "When it rains, the sidelines get pools of water."

Mr. Smith said the youth football league partnered with Waite High School to apply for the grant. The school's football and soccer teams also use the field.

The stadium is named after former Waite football coach Jack Mollenkopf, who went on to coach at Purdue University from 1956 until 1969.

Maumee Bay Turf Center, a company based in Oregon, will complete the project. The work is expected to begin in the spring and be completed next summer.

"It's going to be a new grass that is durable and won't wear down," Smith said.

Mr. Smith said his group was competing against more than 1,000 other applicants nationwide.

"It wasn't just football fields, it was soccer and other sports as well," he said.

The teams play at Mollenkopf Stadium on Saturdays from September through October. Mr. Smith's son, Tony, also went through the league, which has served East Toledo youths for six decades.

"I love the game of football and I went through the league and moved on to Waite," Tony Smith said. "I want to make sure kids in the community can have the same opportunity."

Contact Mark Monroe at: mmonroe@theblade.com, 419-724-6354, or on Twitter @MonroeBlade.

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