The transformation Sean McKenna has witnessed in the athletic programs through the six years he's worked in the Brooke Charter School system was at the front of his mind.
Not long ago, the uneven field behind the Brooke Mattapan campus resulted in plenty of rolled ankles at practice. Thanks to help from Robert Kraft, the New England Patriots Foundation and the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) Boston, the athletic director got to address the entire student body on a brand-new turf field Thursday morning.
"At Brooke, the culture is one where kids are excited to come to school," McKenna said after a formal ribbon-cutting ceremony was held to reveal the field. "These kids, they want this. They deserve this. We're so, so grateful. It means the world to the kids. They get to play on this every day, practice on it every day, and even just being able to like take part in an event like this is something they'll remember forever."
It was a tough secret for faculty to keep, but as students filed into an outdoor assembly, their eyes lit up to see wide receiver Kendrick Bourne, Pat the Patriot, and the New England cheerleaders greeting them onto the field.
Holding up signs that read "Thank You" and "We Love Our Field," the energy emitted from the students was infectious. Patriots chairman and CEO Robert Kraft says the experience made his day.
"This project will provide opportunities for inner-city youth to participate in the athletics that you enjoy -- especially including youth football," Kraft told the students. "By the way, I expect and hope at least one of you will be on the Patriots 15 to 20 years from now."
The field will be enjoyed by more than 1,200 boys and girls across the charter school network, which includes five campuses, and by various groups in the Lena Park community of Boston.
It will see plenty of use, too. According to McKenna, there are only three days in the month of May that it wasn't booked for a game or practice.
Andre Tippett, NFL Hall of Famer and the Patriots' executive director of community affairs, offered the kids some insight.
"This field is a great classroom," Tippett said.
"Think about it, Brooke Charter School, we used to call what we did on the practice field the 'eighth period.' Think about this. If you fail, you get up and do the same thing again tomorrow. Think about that. You think about the environment and the folks that you're around and the quality that you get from being out on this eighth period in the classroom: work ethic, perseverance, resiliency, mental toughness, accountability, and most of all, developing compassion for others. This is a wonderful, wonderful opportunity for you guys. I hope you take full advantage of it."
As noted by Bourne, the students now have a beautiful field to complement the existing basketball courts and playground behind the school.
In partnership with LISC, the New England Patriots Foundation now has funded 12 community fields throughout Massachusetts, totaling just over $1.7 million in grants.
"In a small way, us helping to get this field here will allow these kids to compete and stand on equal footing with everyone else," Kraft said. "It's a great feeling. This is a real uplift being here today, and we're honored to be a small part of this field."