There’s a lot of exciting work that goes into building and restoring athletic fields. The thrill of imagining new facilities and then seeing them come to fruition is a joy only outmatched by the sight of seeing those same fields then being used by generations of student-athletes.
Before our first field project in 2012, it had been decades since most OKCPS schools had well maintained athletic fields. Sports participation had dwindled. And kids didn’t want to play on patches of dirt littered with rocks and standing water.
Our promise to the student-athletes and their families across Oklahoma City Public Schools then is the same as it is now: We will never allow our fields to return to their previous state.
John Downing’s Upkeeping
Even though fewer home games were played on the fields this Spring, the OKCPS athletic complexes still served as familiar, safe homes for students, families, and neighbors to safely exercise and play.
And much of that is thanks to our new Field Director.
Throughout the pandemic, John Downing and crew have been driving from campus to campus in Oklahoma City, surveying and performing maintenance on a vast portfolio of fields and athletic complexes. Their daily efforts have kept each field both functional and beautiful.
And field beautification matters.
When students and parents see fields consistently maintained, it creates trust and confirmation that OKCPS and Fields & Futures are there for them. And anytime they wish to return, we’ll be ready.
24/7. 365. We’re here to impact generations, not just one school year.
We talked with John to see how he is settling into his new position as Fields & Futures Field Director. Here’s what he had to say:
How long have you been performing field maintenance?
I was in the lawn sprinkler business in OKC for 28 years. Although the majority of my business was residential, I did install a few sports field systems and performed regular maintenance on several systems around town. Although I have a lot to learn, I’m really enjoying the process, and feel my irrigation and business experience has given me a great foundation on which to build.
What made you interested in the profession? How did you get your start?
Tim and Liz Mcglaughlin have been customers and good friends of our family for most of my life. I have believed in and supported their foundation since the beginning. Tim approached me last fall about the opportunity to join the team and I could not pass up the opportunity to become a part of it.
What are some of the day-to-day responsibilities you have in your position?
As Field Director, I am responsible for basically everything facilities maintenance-related. Including turf, irrigation, fencing, signs, nets, trees, trash, coach support, you name it. I do perform some repairs myself, and also facilitate our team members and vendors to help us maintain very high standards in the upkeep of these fields going forward.
What is the most gratifying part of your job?
At the most basic level, it’s the kids. Helping the kids get a better start in life, by providing them a nice, safe place to play that they can be proud of.
How long have you been involved with Fields & Futures?
I’m the new guy, just joined the team officially April 1st of this year.
What do you love most about being a member of the Fields & Futures team?
The chance to join a team doing truly meaningful work has really been a dream come true.
How important are sports in the development of a young person? Why do you feel this way?
In my opinion, they are very important and, for me, it’s really easy to understand. Becoming part of a team gives kids numerous advantages. Obviously they learn teamwork, but also accountability to each other, as they have to show up to school and pass all their classes to remain eligible.
The opportunity to get good mentoring from coaches, working through adversity, and being rewarded for hard work, and development of a good work ethic, are just a few more of the intangibles. But also, on a very basic level, it gives them something to look forward to.
A lot of our kids have challenging lives outside of sports with limited resources and opportunities at no fault of their own. It’s our goal to remove all the obstacles we can to help them be successful.
How does it feel knowing that the fields you work on will be used by children for generations?
It feels great. To be a small part of the team doing such meaningful and long-term work is very rewarding. We are attempting to truly change the culture of Oklahoma City Public Schools, and it’s happening.
Finally, how has COVID-19 affected your work since fields are not being used as much?
With the lack of use, the fields have had a chance to “rest” and are really in great shape right now. Although we would much rather they be put to use, the fields will be in tip-top condition when the kids eventually do get back to school. I’m really looking forward to seeing the kids back on the fields.