Back when OKC had zero professional soccer franchises and Bob Funk Jr. and Tim McLaughlin were competing to bring separate clubs to the city, McLaughlin had a separate dream: rebuild the Oklahoma City Public School District’s crumbling athletic infrastructure.
“We were on a Wes Welker (Foundation) tour on a bus. They kind of put together a funding tour, and they looked at projects they were considering,” McLaughlin recalled. “When we were on that tour and you see the state of things here, it was kind of a range of emotions. You get a little bit angry about it, and I thought, ‘I think we can help with this’ because, if you build it, they will come.”
When McLaughlin and Funk eventually joined forces with the Oklahoma City Energy FC, Funk said his new partner wanted to make sure that he supported the charitable efforts as well.
“I still thought it was a great cause, regardless of competing,” Funk said. “So, when we came together, it was just a natural fit at that point. I think one of the first questions out of his mouth (…) was, ‘Hey, do you have a problem with Fields & Futures being a part of this?’ And of course I said, ‘Absolutely not.'”
Funk said the vision of McLaughlin and his wife, Liz, meshed with the community focus that Funk’s sports and entertainment agency, Prodigal, had.
“When they saw the condition of the facilities of OKCPS, in both the high school and middle schools, they thought it was just a travesty,” Funk said of the McLaughlins. “Their vision was, we’re going to renovate these fields, we’re going to do that in conjunction with a mentorship program, and we’re going to fundraiser for an endowment to maintain these fields in perpetuity.”
McLaughlin noted that $2 of every Energy FC ticket goes to support the work of Fields & Futures.
“We just want to go faster. We should have 20 built by the end of this year with a little cooperation from mother nature,” McLaughlin said, adding there would still be 24 more fields on his group’s master list. “When you complete a project and then you see the community engaging in utilizing, and then you think back to all the wonderful people who contributed to make that moment happen.
“When those teams are getting to play home games, in some cases for the first time in decades because they have a home field now, that’s pretty powerful.”
Now, closing in on three years since Prodigal was awarded its United Soccer League franchise, the work being done with Fields & Futures is just one of the community endeavors that has sprouted to life.
Sports as support for the classroom
The two Energy FC partners agreed that their ultimate goals with Fields & Futures relate to classroom performance, inspiration and character.
“We’ve got some very exciting news,” McLaughlin said. “We ran some tracking on 1,700 student athletes vs. non-student athletes. We have a 99 percent graduation rate among those student athletes.”
McLaughlin noted completed fields at Jefferson, Webster and Taft middle schools, as well as Capitol Hill High School. Northwest Classen and Star Spencer have fields currently under reconstruction.
The result? McLaughlin said participation has increased from the below-national-average number of 30 percent when Fields & Futures began. Similarly, he said high rates of coach turnover have also declined.
“You look at these coaches as mentors for kids, and if they’re not leaving every year, it just perpetuates them not trusting an adult,” he said. “It’s a win-win-win for everyone involved. So our goal is to get these fields built as fast as we can to impact these communities as fast we can.”
Energy FC players make good ‘Sidekicks’ for Special Olympians
Sports can be important and inspiring to anyone and everyone, not just the biggest, fastest and strongest among us.
That’s the foundation behind the Energy FC’s Sidekicks program, which pairs the club’s professional players with more than a dozen Special Olympics athletes.
“Our athletes kind of mentor them and coach them throughout the year to provide a unique experience to these young men and women,” Funk said.
He noted that many people he encounters are surprised to learn how much Energy FC gives back to the community, especially in relation to the time spent with the Sidekicks participants.
“It’s a real special experience,” Funk said. “I always say I think our players probably get more out of it from their experience than the Special Olympics athletes do.”
Funk noted that Sidekicks helps his players become “well-rounded individuals,” and he recalled another project that allowed the team to bond by supporting young people.
“We partnered with the YMCA and Mathis Brothers who provided beds for the kids in (some low-income) apartments,” Funk said. “It was about 200 beds. Our players loaded in the beds to the complex for kids who were sleeping on the floor, in reality, and then they stayed the rest of the afternoon and played soccer with the kids out in the courtyard.
“It’s important, not just for our visibility, but it’s the right thing to do.”
Those wanting to support the Energy FC and their charitable efforts can catch the team’s next home game at 7 p.m., Saturday, April 23, at Taft Stadium. As always, $2 from each ticket goes to Fields & Futures.