Chase Winovich grabbed a shovel and smiled as students from the football team at Buchtel Community Learning Center gathered beside him and took one last look at the grass field at Griffin Stadium
Winovich shared the excitement the students and Buchtel staff felt with the announcement that a new turf field would be installed at the stadium over the summer. A new field was long overdue for Buchtel and its athletic teams, which played on a poorly-maintained grass field that was going to be torn up and replaced with a new, state-of-the-art turf surface.
As Winovich and other students, teachers and staff dug their shovels into the ground, cheers filled the air. A new era was arriving for Buchtel, and Winovich was pleased to be a part of it.
"You can see how fired up the kids were to have a new field," Winovich said. "It's a very special opportunity anytime you can surprise the kids, but also give them something that is a symbol for how much people believe in them."
Winovich, who joined the Browns via trade last month, was representing the organization for its 12th turf installation at a school or learning center in Ohio as part of a project started by the Browns and Haslam family in 2016. The turf installations are aimed to encourage more students to participate in sports and attend class every day, one of the core values of the Cleveland Browns Foundation's "Stay in the Game! Keep Learning, Every Day!" Network, a statewide initiative designed to promote the importance of school attendance and end chronic absenteeism. The fields also highlight the Browns' dedication toward encouraging students to participate in youth and high school football.
Just before Winovich put his shovel in the field, he stood in front of the football team and other students and staff and gave a passionate speech about the importance of attending school and staying active in athletic programs. That's what helped him attend and graduate from Michigan, which opened his door to the NFL.
"It takes a lot of commitment, and it takes showing up day in and day out despite whatever is around you," he told them. "Take care of what it is you need to do so you can go out there and improve every day."
Buchtel principal LaCresia Beecher was thankful for the investment in her school and students and believes the field will provide a drastic, positive change in drawing students to Buchtel, participating in their athletics programs and attending class every day.
"This is something our community has wanted for a really long time," Beecher said. "When you heard the students say, 'thank you' and start clapping, that was only a small token of appreciation. This is going to be an amazing thing that is going to have a positive impact on generations to come."
Buchtel was the second school in Akron to receive a turf field following the installation of the field at Ellet Community Learning Center, which completed its field installment in 2019. The fields are often used for non-school sporting events, too, and serve as venues for community youth leagues and other recreational activities.
"It's fabulous to have one field on the east side at Ellet and now on the west side here at Buchtel," Akron Public Schools Athletic Director Joe Vassalotti said. "All of our teams will benefit from this. At Ellet, we have football and soccer games that don't involve Ellet (teams), and that'll be the same here. We can use the field over and over again, and it's awesome for the whole district."
The Browns have impacted countless schools, communities and students by the turf field project, which initially started with replacing five fields within the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. The project has since expanded to include more schools in and beyond Northeast Ohio as the Browns Foundation rigorously attempts to eliminate chronic absenteeism in the state.
"The Haslams saw right away that we can make a difference," Browns Vice President of Community Relations Jenner Tekancic said. "It's great to know that the giving continues, and it's because of the teamwork and collaboration we have in 'The Stay in the Game!' Network as well as our commitment to youth and high school football."