Now in its fifth year as the Rams’ signature community event, Wednesday’s playground build at Washington Elementary featured its share of unique changes, additions and even weather.
But more than any of that, one thing remained the same as the Rams shut down the offices at Rams Park and the Edward Jones Dome and took 125 staff members, players and more to install a brand new playground, swing sets and basketball hoops along with fresh paint for the entire building and new landscaping: the long term impact of the day in the community will persist.
“Our school is excited about it just because of what it means for the students and teachers,” Washington Elementary principal Robin Vaulx-Williams said. “To have this playground and other projects going on, of course we are really excited. Once the community saw what was happening, they were really on board and the district is on board seeing what’s happening to our school. Everybody is thrilled about it.”
Wednesday’s build day came with, perhaps, the most anticipation of any of the previous builds given the way the school was chosen and the time spent leading up to the day of the build.
Rams safety Matt Daniels visited the school on April 17 for what was supposed to be a PLAY 60 event for the 240 students in the school. While Daniels did indeed lead the students through a PLAY 60 workout and spoke to them about the importance of staying active and eating well, he also came through with the big reveal at the end of the presentation announcing that Washington Elementary would be receiving the playground and all that comes with it.
Since, the Rams spent plenty of time working with NuToys Leisure Products on the plans for the playground as well as team partners Edward Jones, DreamPlay and Dr. Pepper. Others who contributed to the project include Gateway Greening, St. Louis Composting, Glidden, Fergie’s Build n’ Play and HOPSports.
The result of the collaboration was a playground build that showed a continued effort to expand and increase the reach of the project by finding ways to add new things to it as well as new ways for the community to get involved and the volunteers to enjoy it.
“I think you are always looking for ways to make projects better whether it’s a marketing project, a community project, a season ticket holder event, you are always looking for ways to improve and make it better,” Kevin Demoff, the Rams chief operating officer/executive vice president of football operations, said. “I think bringing in more partners potentially, trying to find more space, it’s a function of labor but you have 125 staff members here who are working here for eight hours, over 1,000 people hours here working on this project start to finish and you always want to see if you can grow it.”
In addition to the construction efforts, team partner Mercy and Family Physician Dr. Paul Angleton was on-site to provide free basic health screenings for volunteers and community members.
The day also featured the installation of basketball hoops for the first time as well as painted on lanes and a free throw line at each end. Before the day was over, local kids had already taken advantage of the new hoops.
Among the rookies who joined a select group of veterans for the build, was first-round pick
Washington Elementary is located in Vinita Park and part of the Normandy School District. About 88 percent of the students in the school receive free or reduced lunch. Before Wednesday, the school had a large area for a playground but nothing for students to actually play on.
Austin wasted no time getting to know some of the kids who were around, playing basketball with them and making sure they knew that he and his teammates did what they could to bring a smile to every young face that approached.
“I definitely feel lucky to be out here,” Austin said. “I come from a community just like this. It feels good that we can get out here and do some of the things we are doing for them; building a playground so they can have somewhere safe to play.
“When I was young, we used to have stuff like this and I always told myself that one day I hope I can get in position to help somebody.”
While Austin was busy engaging the kids as much as possible, many of his teammates were hard at work to help the project come together. One other new sight added to the build this year was a BIG addition.
“I think maybe one way to improve it we saw with having a 6’10 offensive tackle who can hold up a swing set on a jungle gym by himself,” Demoff said, laughing.
Of course, the evolution of the project itself in five years also brings with it a certain inherent amount of ways to keep the volunteers engaged in the project. For the first time ever, the Rams brought along a DJ to provide music while they worked.
And, perhaps the best news for the volunteers was the cooperation of Mother Nature for the first time in playground build history. In the previous four builds at Fairmont City Library Center, Giant Steps, Monroe eMINTS Academy, and a community park in East St. Louis, the Rams have dealt with torrential downpours on multiple occasions and more often than not, those downpours were followed by sweltering heat and humidity.
Wednesday provided a precipitation free day with sunny skies and pleasant temperatures in the upper 70s, a welcome respite for the volunteer crew.
“What’s amazing to me is the energy and excitement the staff has for this day in June to come out and come together,” Demoff said. “Every part of the building: the players, the coaches, the front office, the scouts, every department pitches in and there’s an excitement about each year. Maybe this year it’s because it’s a perfect day for it but the projects get more ambitious, each year there is more to do and this year we couldn’t have found a better partner than Washington Elementary. What a great opportunity for our organization to come in and make a difference.”
While Wednesday’s playground build was the fifth incarnation of its kind, there’s no doubt the Rams hope to continue to evolve their cornerstone community project and find ways to make sure the entire St. Louis area benefits.
“We will go back and evaluate this like we do all of our community events because to me any way you can continue to grow your community footprint is a good day for the Rams,” Demoff said.