Home Turf

Barrow celebrates safer games, national spotlight on new football field

Posted: Monday, August 20, 2007

BARROW - Cathy Parker finally saw the fruit of her labor.

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The 42-year-old bank account executive and football mom from Jacksonville, Fla., saw Barrow High School's new artificial turf football field, for which she generated a $500,000 fund-raising drive.

"It was beautiful," Parker said Friday afternoon before a media conference in the Inupiat Heritage Center.

"I tried to describe it when I e-mailed my family on the night I came in, and it was so hard to put it into words," she said. "The only thing I could think of was it looks like God stamped the top of the world with a hundred yards of the most beautiful blue and gold you've ever seen."

The field is blue with gold lettering and numerals. Blue and gold are the Barrow Whalers' colors, and blue is also the color of the Arctic Ocean, about 100 yards from the field.

The new field is less than mile up Narl Road from the Whalers' old home - a dirt field, where last Aug. 19, history was made, as Barrow faced Delta Junction in the first high school football game above the Arctic Circle.

Cody Gleason didn't play football last year for Barrow, but he saw a video of a game on the dirt field, which often led to ankle injuries for the Whalers.

"It was rowdy," Gleason said.

He walked over the new field on Wednesday and it seemed like a walk on paradise for the Whalers junior tight end and defensive end.

"It's pretty neat. It's soft and it feels good," Gleason said.

That same dirt field - on which Barrow lost 34-0 - spurred Parker to start Project Alaska Turf to bring an artificial turf field to the northernmost city in the nation after she saw a segment about the Whalers last November on a Sunday edition of ESPN SportsCenter.

Three of Parker's four children play football for Jacksonville's Bartram Trail High School: Kyle, a 17-year-old senior quarterback who's headed to Clemson University next fall on a football scholarship; Collin, 16, a junior wide receiver, and Kendall, 14, a freshman linebacker. And her husband, Carl, a former National Football League wide receiver, is the team's offensive coordinator and tight ends coach. Bartram Trail also plays on artificial grass.

Parker's project has drawn national attention, as media from ABC, NBC, CNN and ESPN were in Barrow last week. NBC Nightly News is scheduled to broadcast a feature about Parker on Thursday.

Also in Barrow is a crew from KTUU-TV, an NBC affiliate in Anchorage. Lew Freedman, a copy editor and former outdoors writer for the Chicago Tribune and former sports editor for the Anchorage Daily News, is spending about a month here to write a book about high school football in Barrow.

Pennsylvania-based Black Diamond Sports broadcast Friday night's game live on the Internet at www.blackdiamondsports.net.

Tom Ryan, a 40-year broadcasting veteran of Pennsylvania high school football, broadcast the game with Dr. Phil Manney, Black Diamond Sports founder.

"We certainly don't have anything like this close to home," Ryan said.

The Parkers' other child, 13-year-old Cara, accompanied her mother to Barrow, along with a small group of other Bartram Trail football parents, and representatives from Florida companies that contributed to the project. One of them is Ike Sherlock, fleet coordinator for the Grimes Cos., a Jacksonville-based warehousing and transportation firm which coordinated delivery of the field's components from three states to a barge at the Port of Tacoma in Washington.

The carpet was trucked from a Dalton, Ga., facility of field manufacturer Pro Grass, which is based in Pennsylvania. The rubber mulch that goes underneath the field came from Seattle and the decals for the field were transported from Pennsylvania.

After arriving in Anchorage from Tacoma, the field and its components were trucked to Fairbanks. Originally, an Air National Guard transport plane was scheduled to fly everything to Barrow but, as Parker said recently, the military ran into some road blocks.

Alaska companies Sourdough Trucking and Carlile Transportation stepped in and volunteered to truck the materials to Deadhorse along the Haul Road. Northern Air Cargo volunteered to fly everything from Deadhorse to Barrow.

Players from Seward High School, which faced Barrow on Friday night in the Whalers' season opener and the first Greatland Conference game of the year for both teams, saw the field for the first time on the same day Parker did. The Seahawks' expressions were similar to hers.

"It's awesome," said Andrew Ferkinhoff, a sophomore tailback for Seward. "It's soft, like walking on a bathroom carpet."

"Our field," junior two-way lineman Ryan Dunno said in comparison, "is just this giant mud pit."

Would the Seahawks like to have a similar field?

"It would be sweet," Dunno said.

Sweet also describes the responses Parker received for the project, as monetary and in-kind donations came from individuals and businesses from Florida to Alaska and in between.

"It was such a great surprise to me, especially people in other states who wanted to help," she said.

She was particularly touched by donations from senior citizens on tight budgets.

"They would say we're on a fixed income and we're retired," said Parker, "but we have grandchildren and we have sons and daughters that athletics meant a lot to, and we want to help the youth.

"All of those donations came with a letter attached saying the same type of thing. I asked my mom and dad about it because they're retired, and they said that there's a sense of responsibility that the elders have. They want to see the next generation succeed."

Delbert Rexford, project manager for the Ukpeagvik Inupiat Corp., which installed the field, echoed similar sentiments in a stirring speech during the media conference, which also recognized people who contributed to the project.

"We are taking a step forward into a new arena to build character and strengthen our children's values, our youth and future leaders of tomorrow," Rexford said. "We enter a new era for our youth, as we have heard the cries of our elders at our annual meetings that our children are in dire need of alternative programs and activities to further build their character, their dignity, their integrity as individual people.

"Today, this moment," he continued, "we have in place a football field for our youth and community members as a whole to assist in combating the many social ills that attack, destroy and kill the character of a sound mind and body of a person."

Rexford also thanked "the remarkable Cathy Parker for her vision to make this football field a reality."

Trent Blankenship, superintendent of the North Slope Borough School District, and Susan Hope, secretary of the NSBSD School Board, also presented Parker with a long, blue parka to help her adjust to Barrow's 40- and 50-degree weather - warm by local standards - after she left 95-degree conditions in Jacksonville.

"We've been cold since we've been here and I heard these really keep you warm," Parker said while putting on the parka. "It's true, they do this is awesome!

"I can really cheer loud (at Friday night's game) now that I'm warm."

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