Greg Newsome II stepped up to the podium at the 50-yard line at Shaw Stadium and surveyed the new turf field beneath, new bleachers in front of him and an ecstatic team of Shaw High School football players behind him.
Newsome, the Browns' 2021 first-round pick at cornerback, spoke on behalf of the Browns for Shaw High School's field dedication ceremony, which took place Tuesday upon completion of a state-of-the-art artificial turf field at Shaw Stadium courtesy of the Haslam family and Browns Give Back. The orange Browns helmet logo was painted on the 20-yard line, while the red Shaw Cardinals logo was at midfield.
Five months earlier, a set of worn-down bleachers looked over a spotty grass field. It wasn't ideal for Shaw Stadium, a location where the Cleveland Rams of the NFL practiced and played home games in 1938, but the playing surface has finally been revitalized for the school and surrounding East Cleveland community.
"To have a field like this and an opportunity to play more than one sport on this field is going to be amazing," Newsome said as the football team, cheerleading team, band members and other students and Shaw staff listened. "Have fun and enjoy it. High school goes by so fast. You guys won't be able to be on this field for too long. Just enjoy every single moment you have with each other."
The dedication at Shaw Stadium marks the completion of the 10th high-quality synthetic turf field installed in Ohio during the past five years as part of a field installation project started by Haslam family and Browns Give Back in 2016.
All of the new fields constructed through the program are lined for multiple sports, in addition to football, and serve as a resource to further engage students throughout their respective districts. Given the stability of the surface and less maintenance needed compared to natural grass, the fields are now more readily available to youth and community groups, as well as the respective districts.
East Cleveland City Schools is a partner district 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 put an end to chronic absenteeism. Through the program, the Browns also distributed $350,000 to East Cleveland last season to address educational needs related to the digital divide as part of the NFL's Inspire Change grant initiative.
This past spring, the Browns, East Cleveland City Schools and the NFL, represented by Commissioner Roger Goodell, welcomed government officials, student athletes, faculty and other special guests at a groundbreaking ceremony during the 2021 NFL Draft in Cleveland.
One final ceremony took place Tuesday with Browns personnel, Newsome and fullback Johnny Stanton all in attendance with school staff members. Dr. Henry Pettiegrew, Superintendent of the East Cleveland School District, and Ohio state senator Kenny Yuko were also present and spoke about their excitement of the restoration.
"We're not just going to play here," Pettiegrew said. "We're going to use this field to access our future. We will make you proud on this field, and we will have fun on this field."
After the ceremony, Newsome and Stanton spoke to the team and chatted with other staff members from the school to encourage them to use the field as much as they can. Both of them implored the students to use the field as motivation to be a good student in school, too, and recalled how their high grades as high school scholars were a major reason why they could reach the NFL.
"You never know when it's your last play, and you never know when it's your last day," Newsome said. "I challenge you all to be the best you can be. Aim high, reach your goals and never allow someone to tell you that you can't do something."