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Proud Partnership: Wellpinit School District to Install Grass Football Pitch with NFL Grant

With an average enrollment of 69 students, Wellpinit High School, located on the Spokane Tribe of Indians reservation 40 miles northwest of Spokane, is one of the smallest in the state.

Despite the size of the school, it already has one of the best basketball gyms in the 2B/1B classifications. In the fall, he will add this distinction to his football field.

The school, with a grant from the NFL Foundation’s Grassroots program, will be installing a new grass pitch over the next few months in hopes of breaking it up for the upcoming fall football season. The school district received $250,000 from the program, with plans to match up to $750,000.

“It will be a great opportunity for our children and our community,” Wellpinit Sporting Director Clark Pauls said after the groundbreaking ceremony on Wednesday.

“It was really surprising that we got the grant because of all the possibilities we’re going to be able to use it for. The setup is going to be top notch. I’m just excited and looking forward to seeing what it really looks like when everything is said and done.

Pauls said it was by chance that he heard about the grant.

“I was just looking for (grants) for new equipment – ​​USA Football has plenty of that. I saw this and immediately went to my business office manager and said, “Hey, that’s a grant I think we should get,” and she said, “Yeah, we can make it work”. ”

Construction crews have already demolished the baseball outfield and scraped and leveled the area where the new football field will be installed. Pauls said construction and installation of the playing surface should be complete by the end of June.

“The hope initially was that next year’s seniors could get at least one game next season,” Pauls said. “But as long as we don’t have too many weather delays, it looks like they’ll have the full season.”

He said other schools in northeast Washington are asking to play on the grass field on Saturdays in the fall.

Once the playing surface is complete, the second phase of the project will be to install a grandstand and, Pauls hopes, lights within the next two years.

Two of the most important words spoken during the comments before and after the ceremony were pride and community.

“I’ve been here 15 years and that’s probably the one thing that’s great about our community is that we always come together no matter what,” Pauls said. “No matter what type of fundraiser, our community will always come out and fight for our kids, which is great.

“Because it’s such a small community, almost everyone is related in some way, and if they’re not related, they’re practically siblings because they’ve been together all their lives. .”

“It’s really good for the high school and the community and even the lower grade kids,” said Greg Abrahamson, a councilor for the Spokane Indian tribe. “We have a lot of our youngsters involved in sports…and that’s growing all the time, so we’ll be able to host those types of events here.

Abrahamson said that when he was growing up on the reservation, youth sports took place on the powwow grounds.

“From the growth of the ’70s to today, it’s just been astronomical for the community,” Abrahamson said. “Seeing things like this happen, we try to do our best for our community and our children who are here in school now and those to come.

“It will be a source of pride for them to grow up here with great sports facilities.”

The Grassroots program is a partnership between the NFL Foundation, which provides the funding, and LISC (Local Initiatives Support Corporation), which provides technical assistance and manages the program.

The program has distributed grants to 30 cities and towns over the past year for a total of $6 million.

Tina Vlasaty, Senior Program Officer of LISC-Puget Sound, attended the event.

“I think it’s just a special community here, and we’re so happy to be able to invest in the future of children’s sports,” she said after the ceremony. “Being able to see all the people coming together – that part is really special to me.

“One of the things our organization is really proud of is our sports and recreation program, and we do a lot of economic development and community development work. Sport, bringing people together and the team aspect are very important elements in creating a feeling of belonging to the community. »

Vlasaty stressed the importance of providing this type of opportunity to rural and indigenous communities.

“There are a lot of rural communities that are very underinvested,” she said. “And certainly our First Nations people have been through that. We are really happy to give back and to see this community excited about the project.

Vlasaty said the Wellpinit field replacement is the only one of its kind in the state this year.

Paul Johns, former Seattle Seahawks wide receiver and director of the organization’s youth and high school programs, helped with the groundbreaking — along with Seahawks mascot Blitz.

“It means so much, because we’re all about community,” Johns said. “Not just for western Washington, but for eastern and all of Washington. For LISC to be a part of that, and for the NFL Foundation and the Seahawks to help have a multi-purpose field, it means the world to the Seattle Seahawks organization.

Johns said the new playing surface will open up opportunities for youth and flag football which has not been possible in the past while trying to maintain a pitch for college use.

“We’re going to start talking about how we can bring an NFL (football) flag league here, so they can have their own flag league, that’s just the start of good things. It’s really nice to be here for the groundbreaking ceremony as they open up their new ground.

The Seahawks’ presence at the festivities was a welcome part of the program.

“I’m a huge Seahawks fan, which makes it even cooler,” Abrahamson said. “A lot of times you see them doing things on the west side of the state. For them to come from the east side of the state, representing all of Washington State, to be able to participate in this, it’s really cool.

The ribbon-cutting ceremony took place just as school was closing for the day, with all of the student body and faculty assembled.

The festivities began with a tribal prayer and drumming ceremony performed by a group of kindergarten children. Abrahamson said the benefits of the new field will affect the current student body, the youngest in attendance on Wednesday, and generations to come.

“Not only is there pride, but kids grow up so fast,” he said. “In an instant they are in smaller sports, then bigger sports, then you are out of school and have your own children.

“It makes a big difference to have quality pitch and equipment to be able to play sports.”

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