CLEARWATER — Children in the Greenwood Panthers football and cheerleader program will get a new playing facility, thanks to a hefty grant from the National Football League.
The NFL announced Thursday that it was awarding $2.5 million to 15 cities for construction or refurbishing of community football fields. Among the cities: Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. — and Clearwater.
Clearwater's grant of $100,000 is earmarked for Clearwater for Youth Inc., according to Hank Webb, the executive director of the nonprofit, which helps provide grants, scholarships and funding opportunities for youth programs in the Greater Clearwater area and also runs popular football and cheerleading programs.
Together with the city, Clearwater for Youth will use the NFL grant to turn vacant space beside the old Jack Russell Stadium in North Greenwood into at least two football fields equipped with lights and fencing. The parcel was previously used for overflow parking during Philadelphia Phillies spring training games, before the new Bright House Field was built across town.
"I think adding the fields in that particular location will be a boon for the community, and a very welcomed one,'' Webb said.
In 2009, the Greenwood Panthers' former home, Phillip Jones Field, was closed because buried landfill debris was edging too close to the surface. For the last three years, the approximately 250 football players and cheerleaders have been forced to use an assortment of fields at schools and recreation sites.
A groundbreaking for the new fields will be held in early September, and although everything is still in the planning stages, the public can expect the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to be involved, Webb said.
The grants announced Thursday are part of a 14-year, $32.5 million commitment by the NFL. So far, 256 fields have been built or refurbished nationwide.
In the press release, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell described community playing fields as "the pillars of neighborhoods across the country."
Grants also will go to schools, parks and other facilities in Atlanta; Spartanburg, S.C.; Chicago; Alexandria, Ky.; Grafton, Ohio; Pueblo, Colo.; Detroit; West Allis, Minn.; New Orleans; Newark, N.J.; Philadelphia; Penn Hills, Pa.; Madison, Tenn.; and Washington D.C.
Piper Castillo can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4163. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.