MOULTRIE — As the wife of a coach and the mother of three football-playing sons, Cathy Parker believes in the power the sport has to be a positive influence on youngsters.

And after being coaxed into watching an ESPN documentary last year on the plight of the high school program and its young players in Barrow, Alaska, Parker put her belief into action.

And her persistence paid off for a whole community more than 4,000 miles away from her home in Jacksonville, Fla.

Parker, a native of Valdosta, is married to former Lowndes High, Vanderbilt and NFL receiver Carl Parker.

The couple’s children attend Bartram Trail High School, where Carl Parker is an assistant coach on the football team.

Cathy Parker saw the ESPN documentary on the implementation of a football program for high school students in Barrow, Alaska, that was designed to help a community beset by a high dropout rate, drug abuse and an alarming suicide rate among teens.

What the Parkers noticed was that the Barrow Whalers football team played on field covered in dirt and gravel.

Grass does not grow in Barrow, where football field was a long pass from the Arctic Ocean.

Cathy Parker decided to raise money to install an artificial turf field in Barrow for the Whalers to play on.

“I just knew that was what we needed to give them,” Parker told BAFANTE (Bring A Friend At Noon To Eat) meeting at the Trinity Baptist Fellowship Hall last week.

“I knew God had called me to do this.”

And she did it, raising more than $500,000 and having the blue-and-gold ProGrass field installed under adverse conditions in time for the Whalers season-opening football game last Aug. 17.

It was a long and involved project in which raising money was only part of the equation.

Logistics threatened to derail the project, but Parker refused to give in to obstacles and she was on hand to witness the Whalers defeat the Seward Seahawks in the first game on the new field.

Parker said she knew she would not be able to raise enough money just in her community, and went about getting the word out.

Once The Associated Press did a story, donations — large and small — began coming in. And the project would not have been successful with just the large donations.

“It’s people just like us who did this,” she said. “It was people who had the same vision we did.”

Once the money was raised, the next obstacle was getting the 650,000 pounds of products — the turf and the rubber mulch that goes underneath it — to Alaska.

The carpet came from Georgia, the inlays from Pennsylvania. Getting them to the west coast was the easy part.

Barrow is accessible only by plane and boat, and boats can only get in during a few summer months.

The products got to Anchorage, then were trucked to Deadhorse, but three days before the final barge left for Barrow, “We were told it cannot be done,” Parker said.

She talked by phone with the Barrow town council.

The reply she received was that community decided “to do something drastic.”

Something drastic was done and the carpet finally arrived after being flown in from Deadhorse.

Then, when the products did arrive, it was less than two weeks before opening game. Estimates were that installation would take three weeks to a month.

Ten days later, the field was ready.

One of the biggest challenges was talking to folks in Barrow “who do not know football,” Parker said.

In fact, once the carpet arrived and crews were installing it, she talked by phone to one worker who excitedly told her that they had reached the 80-yard line.

And while the Barrow team scored a late touchdown in front of crews from ABC, NBC, CNN and ESPN to defeat Seward and take a victory plunge into the Arctic Ocean, the big winners were people of Barrow.

Barrow’s roads are unpaved, frozen much of the year, muddy the rest.

Young people have little to look forward to. Football has given the citizens of Barrow something to rally around.

An artificial turf field in the team’s colors will complement the community’s renewed efforts to help its young men.

“We changed the lives of a lot of kids,” Parker said. “But it was not just the young people. We changed the whole community.

“They felt like all of America had given them a gift.”

In fact, after the first game, as Parker celebrated on the field, she was approached by a Barrow woman who thanked her for what she had done for her community.

Parker noticed the woman was not wearing her shoes on a chilly August day in Barrow and asked her why.

“This is a brand new carpet,” the woman said. “I don’t want to mess it up.”

But covering the only high school football field north of the Arctic Circle was just part of Cathy Parker and Co.’s gift to the Barrow football team and community.

The Bartram Trail community invited the Barrow football players and Coach Mark Voss to come to the Florida coast for a camp and to meet the Bears football team.

The players stayed with Bartram Trail families. It was a positive experience for many of the young athletes.

As it was for their coaches.

Parker was especially impressed with Voss, who coaches in far less-than-idea circumstances.

“What a passion he has for the boys,” she said.

Parker said initial response to her idea of raising money for a football field 4,000 miles from home in a community of what she called “subsistence hunters” drew a lukewarm suspense.

But her perseverance paid off and validated two of her beliefs.

“You can change lives using athletics as a tool,” Parker said., adding, “Ordinary people can accomplish great things.”

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