By Pete Alfano
Arlington, TX (June 17, 2010)- The newly planted live oak gently swaying in the hot breeze was the center of attention Thursday when the Super Bowl XLV Environmental Program launched its Urban and Community Forestry Project in North Texas. Officials representing the City of Arlington, North Texas Super Bowl Host Committee, Texas Tree Foundation and Texas Forest Service, and youngsters from a local Pop Warner football team, gathered under a small white tent for the ceremonial passing of the “golden shovel” from South Florida, site of Super Bowl XLIV last February, to North Texas.
Yes, the Super Bowl has evolved into more than just a football game. Jack Groh, who oversees the environmental program for the National Football League, said that the league has been in the forefront of the green movement among professional sports leagues and that great strides have been made since the inception of the program in 1993. “Seventeen years ago it was like going back to the Middle Ages,” he said. “We had to create programs from the ground up. Now, we come to a community and look at their programs and how we can help maximize them. It’s been a sea change.”
Earlier this week the last trees from the Super Bowl XLIV project were planted in Broward County in South Florida, which donated the young container-nurtured live oak that was planted in Dr. Robert Cluck Linear Park in the shadow of Cowboys Stadium. The tree was provided by the Designs in Nature nursery of Fort Worth.
It is the first of what is expected to be several thousands tree plantings in the 12 cities and communities in North Texas that are participating in Super Bowl XLV. The trees will be planted between September and October, a more conducive time of year for trees to become established. Betsy Orton of Texas Trees Foundation said that the area where the ceremonial live oak is planted has drip irrigation and that the tree should not be subjected to heat stress as the region heads into the hot and dry summer.
As part of the ceremony, Leslie Nixon of the Miami Dolphins presented the golden shovel (it’s not really gold) to Tony Fay, vice president of communications of the host committee. Officials then each took shovels and helped fill the hole where the tree was planted. Preston Pearson represented the Cowboys and reminded the attendees of the environmental challenges facing the country. “You know what’s going on in the Gulf — the environment is at stake,” Pearson said.
Groh led the Pop Warner players and cheerleaders in the “Super Bowl Green Pledge” to save water, conserve energy, recycle, and as he said “eat ice cream in a cone, not a cup so we cut down on litter. “He interspersed humor — for example, adding quarterbacks to items that should be recycled — saying that making the project fun would help appeal to kids.
The NFL’s environmental program is not limited to planting trees. As Groh mentioned in the pledge, recycling and energy and water conservation are part of the project as is distributing unused food from events to food banks. In North Texas, the plan is to utilize volunteers and elementary school kids participating in the SLANT 45 community outreach program in this effort.
But the enduring legacy will be the trees, the first of which were planted six years ago in Jacksonville for Super Bowl XXXIX in 2005. Since then, Groh estimates that almost 25,000 trees have been planted. And cities and communities are being made accountable for the nurturing and survival of the trees, entering their growth rate in a national database every year. “There’s too many folks just talking about the environment,” Groh said. “It’s time to stop chit-chatting and getting down to doing it. We believe in walking the walk and talking the talk.”