Rec center revitalization hits home for Lions' Stafford

Lions QB knows the importance of rec centers first-hand for area youth, will donate $1M toward Lipke Recreation Center

Carlos Monarrez
Detroit Free Press
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Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford walks across the future site of the Matthew Stafford Score 7 Charitable Fund Football Field and S.A.Y. Play Youth Program on Jan. 27, 2015  after it was announced that  a $10-million revitalization plan will reopen a shuttered recreation center, the Lipke Recreation Center, near 7 Mile and Van Dyke.

Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford is a multimillionaire, six-year NFL veteran and a recently crowned Pro Bowl MVP. But he's also 26 years old and not very far removed from the recreation centers of his youth, when he received formative lessons in life and sports.

That's why it was easy for Stafford to announce a $1-million pledge, through his Score 7 Charitable Fund, on Tuesday to help build an indoor football field and reclaim the shuttered Lipke Recreation Center in the Osborn School area in Detroit.

"I remember my days back where I'm from in Dallas, Texas, after school some of the most influential people I met and influential places for me growing up were my rec center and my coaches," Stafford said. "They coached me during those times in my life and tutors, mentors, whatever it was, it's an important part of these children's lives and we can impact it."

The 10-year revitalization plan is estimated at $10 million, with Stafford's foundation, S.A.Y. Detroit (a Michigan nonprofit) and the city committing a combined investment of $2.5 million for the project at the 14.2-acre site. The recreation center will be renamed the S.A.Y. (Sports, Academics, Youth) Detroit Play Center at Lipke Park and will blend athletics and academics, featuring several playing fields and a 2,500-square foot digital learning center with daily tutoring program.

Along with Detroit mayor Mike Duggan and Detroit Free Press columnist and S.A.Y. Detroit founder Mitch Albom, Stafford addressed a few hundred supporters, area children, organizers, politicians and reporters. Stafford said it was Albom's influence that helped him decide to attach his name to the biggest project in Detroit that his foundation has undertaken.

"I've been to quite a few of the events that he's done," Stafford said. "I do his radiothon every year. Obviously I'm on the radio with him every Monday of the season and I know what kind of work he does.

"And I knew going into this thing that it wasn't going to be done any way but perfect. This guy's going to go all out. Everything he does has a great impact and is run at the top-notch level. I knew he was going to be a great partner in this."

Stafford, who is signed with the Lions through 2017, echoed Albom's comments about making more than just a monetary investment in the project.

"Like Mitch said, this isn't an 'open the door, pay some money, I'm never going to be here, who knows what happens to it in two, three years.' This is the long haul," Stafford said. "This is a 10-year commitment from me and I know it is from everybody here. And hopefully longer than that.

"Hopefully, I'm still around here longer than that and still playing some good football for you guys. And hopefully I'll get to come over here and practice with some of these youngsters. Maybe I'll hang around long enough I'll be throwing passes to them some day."

Stafford explained his thorough vision for the field and his involvement and perhaps the involvement of some teammates.

"But that's the plan for me: Build a football field that's something that I'm going to be proud to put my name on," he said. "I'm going to bring guys from the Lions over here as much as I possibly can to hang out. I'll have our maintenance guys come over and get this thing looking right. We'll have a nice scoreboard, all that kind of stuff, get the bubble over so when it gets cold we can go practice inside, all that kind of stuff."

Stafford also stressed the cornerstone of the project, which requires youths to maintain a 2.5 grade-point average and good school attendance to participate in the sports programs.

"And playing sports and all that is great," he said. "But if you don't have the grades to get to high school or get into college or whatever it is, they're for naught. So you've got to make sure these kids are getting a balance of athletics, playing for 60 minutes, all that kind of stuff as well as the school programs."

Borrowing again from Albom's lead, Stafford was perhaps at his most earnest when spoke of the type of outreach and hope that the new center at 7 Mile and Van Dyke could provide residents.

"What Mitch said earlier made a whole lot of sense to me," Stafford said. "You can put a ton of money and great infrastructure and restaurants and shopping into the city of Detroit, but we've got to invest in the neighborhoods as well.

"That's something that we're trying to do with this and hopefully it starts from the bottom up, from kids. These kids are going to be living in Detroit one day and hopefully they have great memories here at Lipke."

Stafford also spoke with reporters about a few football-related subjects.

On Deflategate: "I don't know because I've never thrown a deflated ball. I don't what that feels like. So I'm probably the wrong guy to ask on that. I just show up and play with the balls that we're brought."

On playing in his first Pro Bowl: "Yeah, it was fun. I felt like I had a little something to prove. I was going out there with the intention of playing well. Like I've said a couple times, I feel like I've had some good years in this league and for one reason or another I haven't had a chance to play in that game. And that game is the ultimate game of respect. You're in that game because people thing you're one of the best. I feel like I missed out on it a couple times and now getting a chance to play in it I sure as heck wasn't going to miss out on it on that Sunday. I went out there, played as good as I could and it worked out."

Contact Carlos Monarrez: Follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.

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