The memories for those who remembered the old Dwayne Browder Field were fresh Wednesday. It made the $930,000 worth of renovations feel even more impactful as they reflected on what it used to be while projecting what kind of impact it would have on the Cleveland inner-city neighborhood in the years to come.
"This was a glass and cinder field," said Michael Cox, Cleveland's Director of Public Works. "It has come a long way from there."
One year after the Browns and NFL/LISC Grassroots Program announced Dwayne Browder Field would receive a new synthetic turf football field, hundreds of young football players, cheerleaders and community figures gathered to celebrate its rededication. The $200,000 grant from the Browns, the NFL Foundation and Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) to the non-profit community development corporation Burten, Bell Carr Development kickstarted the renovation and insured the field would be ready for an autumn full of Cleveland Muni League football.
The $200,000 is part of $2.5 million in field refurbishment awards that were allocated in 2014.
"This is very important for the Central neighborhood," said Joe Reccord, the Muni League's longtime director. "I remember growing up as a kid. This was just a dirt field and now we have a place where kids can play ball here. You don't have to worry about the weather. It's great. It's really great to have it here in the middle of the inner city."
Owner Dee Haslam, team president Alec Scheiner, former quarterback Bernie Kosar and a number of Browns employees attended the ceremony and cheered along with the cheerleaders and young football players who were able to break in the field for the first time as the sun set on a humid afternoon. Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, who grew up in the neighborhood around the field and previously served as its councilman, also spoke and thanked the Browns and their partners for the support.
Reccord expects the field to be in full use next weekend by the Muni League's 26 teams. Cleveland's East Technical High School will also use the field for practice. FirstEnergy will aid in the installation of lights for the field and the hope is to eventually play high school games on it.
"We talk a lot when we're with the Browns, 'what's the most important thing we can do?'" Scheiner said. "Every day except today, we talk about winning. We talk about engaging with our fans. When you're out here on this field tonight, we realize it's actually not the most important thing we can do. This is the most important thing we can do. Fields like this, contributing to our community, you can see the smiles on the faces behind us. This will leave a legacy beyond wins and fan engagement."
The Browns would like to recognize and thank CCI for their role in the enhancement of Dwayne Browder Field. CCI was kind enough to donate the permanent signage being created for this project. As a new partner of the Cleveland Browns and a huge part of our Phase II stadium renovations, we are thrilled to now be working together in the Cleveland community
The smiles grew even wider as the children took the field. As balls started flying in the air, Browns Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden jogged in from the corner of the North end zone to surprise them.
Both Haden and Kosar delivered a pep talk to the group and posed for pictures and selfies.
"I love the way the Browns help in the community," Haden said. "It's a blue-collar city, you have a lot of people that aren't that well off. Being able to give back to them and let them know we do care about them and we appreciate their support and love and how they feel about the Browns also is great."
The Browns are committed to assisting the development, safety and growth of youth football throughout Northeast Ohio with year-round programming for players, coaches, officials and parents. Through camps, clinics and other initiatives, the Browns' goal is to promote healthy, social, emotional, intellectual and physical development of youth by enhancing opportunities for youth football participation and education.
"This won't be the last time we partner up with the city to contribute back to the community," Scheiner said. "We're truly honored to be a part of a project like this."