Baseball legend Cal Ripken Jr. is guest speaker at this year's Bowtie Ball 

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In late 2011, Oklahoma City residents Tim and Liz McLaughlin toured the grounds of Jefferson Middle School.

Through the years, lack of funding had caused the Jefferson grounds and many others in the metro to fall into a state of disrepair. McLaughlin did some research and planning to improve and rebuild the district’s athletic fields. The result was Fields & Futures, a nonprofit organization founded by the McLaughlins to help OKCPS athletics grow student participation in sports. To date, the group has rebuilt 18 of the district’s 44 athletic fields, and two more are currently under construction.

“We exist for one reason,” said Dot Rhyne, who coordinates Fields & Futures sponsorship and marketing. “That is to grow student participation in sports, giving more students a motivator to go to school, stay in school and to graduate.”

The organization also provides a support system for the district’s more than 250 coaches and helps stem the turnover rate, giving kids a more stable environment.

Once Fields & Futures rebuilds a field, it assumes responsibility for its maintenance, Rhyne said. OKCPS contributes fencing, Wes Welker Foundation provides field equipment and private donations cover the rest. In a few cases, Oklahoma City Community Foundation granted resources to help with landscaping, shade structures and asphalt/walking trails.

The effort is paying off. Last year, 99 percent of student athletes graduated, versus 77 percent of their non-athlete peers, while achieving an overall 2.82 percent grade point average, Rhyne said. Through the year, Fields & Futures hosts several fundraisers. One of the largest is the annual Bowtie Ball, which is 6 p.m. Thursday at Chevy Bricktown Events Center, 429 E. California Ave.

“We refer to this event as a ‘party with a purpose,’” Rhyne said. “This is really a night to celebrate, honor and thank the coaches who make the world a better place, one athlete at a time.”

The evening includes a cocktail party, a dinner, a silent auction and a raffle. Rhyne said each year, a guest speaker from the world of sports helps reinforce the belief that the most important win for any coach is actually off the field, court or track.

“We are so excited to welcome Cal Ripken Jr. to this year’s Bowtie Ball,” she said. “He is an iconic baseball player and Major League Baseball Hall of Famer. Cal embodies everything we believe in.”

With a number of fields completed, Rhyne said Fields & Futures tells people they’re at the halftime point in the game.

“We need the community to rally around this work and help Fields & Futures finish what it started,” she said. “It takes a community to raise a community. With each school year that passes and a school does not have safe fields to play on, that class of kids misses what could have been a life-changing opportunity. This is a capital improvement in the school, the neighborhood, the community and the city as a whole.”

The organization needs about $3 million to complete the district’s field construction project and just under $6 million to fully fund a field maintenance endowment.

Visit fieldsandfutures.org.

Print headline: Dream builders, Fields & Futures’ annual Bowtie Ball helps rebuild sports fields and keep students in school.

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