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School, community rally for new athletic field

By Chris Beattie,

Published: Saturday, January 7, 2012 1:51 PM CST

Recess should be a time for frolicking fun, not scrapes and bruises. Avoiding pits and jagged rocks shouldn’t be a worry.

Until now, though, the should’s and should not’s were blurred together at Wilmeth Elementary School in McKinney. Around the playground was no grassy knoll, just a danger zone.

Students needed one thing that would make their play time complete.

Chris Beattie/Staff Photo – Leonard McManaman of Landon Homes and Wilmeth Elementary Principal Judy Bragg lead the ribbon cutting Friday during the school’s unveiling of its new athletic field. Landon Homes, which built residences across the street from Wilmeth, donated about $25,000 to complete the project.

“We came up with a plan,” said fifth grader Grant Baker. “We wanted to get a soccer field.”

After months of research, money raising and some corporate generosity, their plan came to fruition Friday. The school unveiled its brand-new athletic field.

“We got an award from Michelle Obama for being a school that’s doing really well with their physical fitness,” said Judy Bragg, Wilmeth principal. “We want to keep that up, and certainly a safe place to exercise helps.”

As does more than free landscaping and more than $9,000 in parent-raised donations. Landon Homes, which built the residential subdivision across the street from Wilmeth, put more than $25,000 and the necessary manpower toward the project.

Day Star Landscapes, which frequently adorns Landon Homes buildings, spent recent weeks laying sod and furnishing the rocky zone with a grass blend similar to that of high school football fields.

“Seeing the field with all of the rocks and just the dirt, it was hard to say no,” said David Rich, Landon Homes DFW division president. “I have small children, too, so it was a no-brainer.”

The outside help came long after students’ initial pleas. Last spring, a group of then-fourth and fifth graders teamed up to transform their school’s recess yard.

Under the direction of teachers Jaime Siefken and Leon Carroll, they researched the health benefits of a usable soccer field. They drafted a PowerPoint presentation and pitched their plan to Bragg and to Wilmeth’s parent-teacher organization (PTO).

Everyone thought it was a great idea.

“We’ve never been able to do a whole lot out there,” said Trina Youree, physical education teacher. “When we did have time, it was pretty rocky.”

So rocky that once PTO members put the plan in motion, students picked up all the stones during a “rock party.” Word quickly spread to parents and other students through t-shirts and posters.

A booster club Fun Run and school carnival — events that typically raise money for only educational purposes — held an unprecedented, grassy focus.

“All the parents were very generous this year,” said Ashley Aleman, PTO fundraising head. “We raised almost double what we typically do, and I think it’s because we had a vision. This is what the kids really wanted.”

But with bids for the project ranging from $25,000-$35,000, the fundraisers weren’t enough. Statewide cuts to education put McKinney ISD in a tough spot — education took precedence over extracurricular activities.

That’s when Landon Homes came to the “sodden” rescue. When the PTO asked for help, the company jumped at the chance.

“We have several homeowners whose kids go (to Wilmeth), and they tell me how much they love the school,” said Leonard McManaman, who directed the project. “It just needed to be done.”

The 11 students with the initial plan on Friday stood happily on the new field, eager to commemorate their hard work. Some are now in middle school, but returned for the triumphant ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Once the ribbons fell, hundreds of Wilmeth students filed over the grassy goodness. They trotted and somersaulted their way around.

There were no more pits or rocks, no fear of falling. Just some frolicking fun.

“It’s going to be so much better,” Bragg said. “When they come out for recess, they don’t want to just mess around. They really want to play.”

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