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Chief sees hope in new soccer fields

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Standing before the new soccer fields at Lightning Creek Park, Parks Director Doug Kupper praised a partnership with the McLaughlin Family Foundation and others that led to the restoration of fields that previously were little more than hard-packed dirt. [Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman]

Standing before the new soccer fields at Lightning Creek Park, Parks Director Doug Kupper praised a partnership with the McLaughlin Family Foundation and others that led to the restoration of fields that previously were little more than hard-packed dirt. [Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman]

In a season of homecomings, Wednesday was one more for Justin Chavez.

The Oklahoma City Energy FC midfielder was on hand for the dedication of the new soccer complex at Lightning Creek Park, just south of Interstate 240 off S Western Avenue.

The expanse of green grass and white goals is the result of a partnership among Cimarron Construction, the McLaughlin Family Foundation, and Oklahoma City's Parks and Recreation Department.

Before he won a state championship at Edmond Memorial, before he starred at the University of Tulsa, before he turned pro, Chavez played at Lightning Creek.

"There would be times of the year when it was all dirt," he said. "We'd still be out here, me and my friends, my family, would be out here playing soccer.

"My brothers played here, I played here. I have so many great memories here."

To rejuvenate the fields, Cimarron moved the dirt and leveled the ground. McLaughlin Family Foundation pitched in $300,000, and the Parks Department will maintain the complex.

The partnership hopes to make Lightning Creek the first of many projects, adapting to city parks the Fields and Futures model of breathing new life into public school playing fields.

Believers like businessman Tim McLaughlin and Police Chief Bill Citty say children who get the chance to be on teams make better grades, graduate at higher rates, and avoid the pitfalls that can deflect them from the path to a productive life.

Believers believe the path begins with a safe place to play.

Chavez, 28, knows that in his heart.

Now 28, he earned a business management degree in his four years at Tulsa.

Drafted by the Chicago Fire, he went on to play five years in Florida before jumping at the chance to come home this past season to Oklahoma City, where he is a team captain.

He retains "beautiful, beautiful memories" of soccer at the old Lightning Creek.

"It kept me out of trouble," Chavez said.

"Oklahoma City can sometimes not be the best area to grow up in," he said. "Me being on these fields kept me out of other things.

"I had a lot of friends that were actually better than me in soccer but they didn't have that family support, they didn't have financial support.

"When you have the community trying to help you out, I think that's a great thing for these kids."

Chavez worked in Wednesday morning's chill with the 80 children who attended the Energy FC's free soccer clinic held in conjunction with the dedication.

They were the first events at the new six-field complex, where goals were just installed Monday.

Parks Director Doug Kupper said, with the police chief's support, Police Athletic League programs are reaching upward of 3,000 youth soccer players at Woodson Park.

Citty said the Police Athletic League is at 48 elementary schools this year, up from 22 last year.

"When I became chief the first thing the media asked me was, 'What are you going to do to reduce crime?' I said, 'You want to reduce crime, we need to get our kids through school.'

"We've already seen that difference being made," Citty said. "The grades are getting better already, because they're a part of something."

When he looks across fields like those being redone at schools by Fields and Futures and the new fields at Lightning Creek, Citty said, "What I see now, I've come to realize, is hope."

"It gives kids hope, it gives them good, healthy associations and quality mentors to look up to.

"You look at a field," Citty said, "and it gives them a soccer game but it gives them so much more than that. And it gives families so much more than that."

Related Photos
<p>Front to back, Parks Director Doug Kupper; Tim McLaughlin, OKC Energy FC partner; Mayor David Holt; and Kelly Gray, McLaughlin Family Foundation CEO, kick soccer balls at the dedication of new fields Wednesday at Lightning Creek Park. Eighty children who attended a free Energy FC clinic each left with a new soccer ball. [Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman]</p>

Front to back, Parks Director Doug Kupper; Tim McLaughlin, OKC Energy FC partner; Mayor David Holt; and Kelly Gray, McLaughlin Family Foundation CEO, kick soccer balls at the dedication of new fields Wednesday at Lightning Creek Park. Eighty children who attended a free Energy FC clinic each...

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-571131532df40071acd5d8593c8d67c4.jpg" alt="Photo - Front to back, Parks Director Doug Kupper; Tim McLaughlin, OKC Energy FC partner; Mayor David Holt; and Kelly Gray, McLaughlin Family Foundation CEO, kick soccer balls at the dedication of new fields Wednesday at Lightning Creek Park. Eighty children who attended a free Energy FC clinic each left with a new soccer ball. [Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman] " title=" Front to back, Parks Director Doug Kupper; Tim McLaughlin, OKC Energy FC partner; Mayor David Holt; and Kelly Gray, McLaughlin Family Foundation CEO, kick soccer balls at the dedication of new fields Wednesday at Lightning Creek Park. Eighty children who attended a free Energy FC clinic each left with a new soccer ball. [Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> Front to back, Parks Director Doug Kupper; Tim McLaughlin, OKC Energy FC partner; Mayor David Holt; and Kelly Gray, McLaughlin Family Foundation CEO, kick soccer balls at the dedication of new fields Wednesday at Lightning Creek Park. Eighty children who attended a free Energy FC clinic each left with a new soccer ball. [Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-5b1e69538528483410466204120ec1e7.jpg" alt="Photo - Standing before the new soccer fields at Lightning Creek Park, Parks Director Doug Kupper praised a partnership with the McLaughlin Family Foundation and others that led to the restoration of fields that previously were little more than hard-packed dirt. [Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman] " title=" Standing before the new soccer fields at Lightning Creek Park, Parks Director Doug Kupper praised a partnership with the McLaughlin Family Foundation and others that led to the restoration of fields that previously were little more than hard-packed dirt. [Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> Standing before the new soccer fields at Lightning Creek Park, Parks Director Doug Kupper praised a partnership with the McLaughlin Family Foundation and others that led to the restoration of fields that previously were little more than hard-packed dirt. [Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure>
William Crum

OU and Norman High School graduate, formerly worked as a reporter and editor for the Associated Press, the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, and the Norman Transcript. Married, two children, lives in... Read more ›

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