At a remote frigid site a mere three miles south of the northernmost point of land in the United States – Barrow, Alaska to be exact – 120 yards of Astroturf provided by a woman 4,000 miles away forever transformed the lives of the community's 4,257 citizens.
As often is the case with anything truly worthwhile, this change took time to fully manifest itself as it occurred in two phases.
In its second part, the aforementioned otherwise innocuous mass of imitation grass, plastic and polyester known as Cathy Parker Field positively impacted the denizens of this meteorologically unforgiving locale.
Located literally on the shores of the frigid Arctic Ocean a full 340 miles north of the Arctic Circle, the unique blue and gold-colored field is the home to the aptly named Barrow High School Whalers football team.
With bitterly cold temperatures, strong ocean winds often 60 miles per hour and blinding white-out blowing snow conditions even during its early-season games in August, the game site is definitely not for the faint of heart.
In addition, Barrow is so extremely isolated within the state of Alaska that the Whalers’ nearest opponent has to travel 500 miles to play a game. According to current North Slope Borough School District (NSBSD) Activities and Wellness Administrator Bob Meade, the sheer geographical size of the school district has its own inherent set of challenges. For many years, the Barrow High School student body had a staggering 50-percent dropout rate. Those troubling issues first were abated in 2006, when the NSBSD decided that it wanted to start a football program at Barrow High School.
To help fund that first season, then-NSBSD Superintendent Trent Blankenship requested and received a one-time cash contribution from the Alaska State Legislature. Following a clinic in June 2006, 40 players – about one-third of the boys enrolled at Barrow High School – made the football team.
Hundreds of fans showed up for the school’s first-ever football game on a frigid day in August 2006.

On the positive side, in addition to providing an athletic participation opportunity, football provided a wholesome activity that taught the players valuable life lessons such as teamwork and discipline, and in the process kept them in school and away from their former non-productive and often self-destructive activities.
Reports of those positive outcomes in The Last Frontier captured the attention of the nation’s media in the Lower 48. Some 4,000 miles to the southeast, a self-proclaimed football mom from sunny and warm Jacksonville, Florida named Cathy Parker just happened to be watching that telecast that particular day. As Parker and her sons watched the telecast of that Emmy-winning television program from the comfort of their living room, she became very impressed by the determination and fortitude of both the players and the fans. At the same time, Parker became disheartened seeing the coverage of the extreme hardships that the Whalers had to deal with – both on the rough gravel field and off it – and decided to try to do something about it.
With those thoughts in mind, Parker organized “Project Alaska Turf,” whose purpose it was to raise money to fund the new football field. Parker’s relentless fundraising efforts enabled “Project Alaska Turf” to get a blue and gold ProGrass field built in time for Barrow High School’s first football game of the season on August 17, 2007. In front of an enthusiastic and vociferous crowd of 3,000 that included numerous representatives from national media outlets, the Whalers christened the new field in fine style as they defeated Seward High School, 18-16, on a game-winning touchdown run with just 42 seconds to go. It’s so cold that grass doesn’t grow there, and the temperature exceeds the 32-degree mark an average of only 109 days a year.
To fly in opponents – the only means of reaching Barrow – can cost a staggering $20,000 a game.
Among other social ills, many of the high school boys were involved with drinking and getting into trouble during the summer months.
In addition to covering the travel costs, it also paid for uniforms, training equipment and helmets.

Local men who hadn’t coached the game in several years assumed the leadership roles of football coaches. In that inaugural contest and throughout the entire first season, the team members showed great resolve as they played in considerably less-than-ideal conditions on what was little more than a ramshackle gravel and dirt field that often rendered them with painful scrapes and cuts. And although the team won only one of six games that season, the school administration noted a marked improvement in the students’ attitudes, along with higher grade-point averages among the male students in the school. Although she had no previous connection to Barrow or the football program, she came up with the rather outlandish idea of building the Whalers a new football field that would be safer for them, that would better serve their needs, and that would be consistent with the great character and resolve that they clearly demonstrated. And, after the conclusion of a game – consistent with the high school’s nickname – it’s not unusual for fans to walk a mile to witness whaling captains bringing in their haul. That fall, its “Outside the Lines” program made the long northerly trek to Barrow to shoot a documentary regarding Barrow High School’s first football game. Despite a few challenges along the way, Parker raised more than $500,000 for the project, mostly from making presentations at Rotary Clubs in Florida and Georgia.
Larry grew up on a farm where he was a ‘bucket boy’ and for that reason could relate to the kids in Barrow.

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