Stafford-backed youth center to combine sports, studies

Derek Draplin
The Detroit News

The City of Detroit, author Mitch Albom and Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford are teaming up to renovate an abandoned recreation center in Lipke Park to provide athletic and academic opportunities for Detroit's at-risk youth.

The Lipke Recreational Center in northeast Detroit will be renamed the S.A.Y. Detroit Play Center, with renovations to begin immediately. The 14-acre campus will include facilities for football, baseball, soccer, ice skating and academic tutoring, with a targeted completion by next fall.

"I can't tell you how happy it makes me feel to see children wearing T-shirts that have the S.A.Y. Detroit logo on it," Albom, a Detroit Free Press columnist and founder of S.A.Y Detroit, said at the press conference. "We got the idea to try to create a place …where we would combine academics and their importance with recreation and its importance."

S.A.Y. stands for Sports, Academics, Youth.

The 33,506-square-foot recreation center, on Van Dyke near Seven Mile, was closed due to city budget cuts last year. It will be reopened thanks to donations from S.A.Y. Detroit; Stafford's charity, the Score7 Charitable Fund; a national music education charity called Notes for Notes, and the city of Detroit.

"The revitalization of Lipke is part of the city's overall plan to expand the possibilities for youth achievement," Detroit City Councilman Scott Benson said.

Stafford's Score 7 organization is donating $1 million to the project, which is to include an outdoor football field, bleachers and a covered football practice field.

Students play on a rock-climbing wall inside the gym in Lipke Recreational Center after the press conference.

"To build a football field … it's something I'm going to be proud of to put my name on," Stafford said.

The center is to be open to neighborhood children with eventual plans to expand membership throughout the city. Students age 8 to 18 will have access as long as they meet certain requirements, such as maintaining a 2.5 grade point average and school attendance.

A tutoring program, to be housed in a 2,500-square-foot learning facility, will be available for students who don't meet the academic requirements. The goal is to inspire students to keep their grades up.

"This is sports motivating the academic," Albom said.

Mayor Mike Duggan called the project "a true public-private partnership."

The city will continue to own the park, but will lease it to S.A.Y. Detroit, which will be responsible for maintaining it. The city will use a $450,000 state DNR grant to help fund the project, as well as $225,000 in city "quality of life" funds.