Generosity gives Detroit Cody plenty of 'Hope'

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Detroit — In mid-August, Calvin Norman looked at a huge hole in the ground that represented one phase of the rebuilding of the Cody High football program.

The hole soon would become Cody's football field. But cost remained an issue.

Until that same day, when Life Remodeled CEO Chris Lambert told Norman a donation had just been made — to the tune of $300,000.

And that was what was needed to complete the project.

"I just couldn't believe someone would just write out a check right there," Norman said of the donation made by Robert Walrich Sr. and his family. "I was so happy I started crying."

Two months later, Cody has its field: Hope Field.

"This field was built out of people giving their hearts, their spirit, their love for the community and some of these people don't even live in this community and that's powerful within itself," said Norman, who attended Cody nearly 30 years ago and has been its coach the last seven years, guiding his team to the state playoffs last season.

"This wasn't paid by city money, state money or anything like that. It was made by people who care about the city of Detroit and the neighborhood."

The project that included the renovation of the high school cost $5.5 million ($1 million for the field), Lambert said. Among the 10,500 volunteers included 3,000 from GM and 1,800 from Quicken Loans.

And the $300,000 final push from the Walrich Family.

"Bob Sr. asked me if we still needed the $300,000 and I said yes, knowing the family had talked about a $30,000 donation earlier," Lambert said. "He said they wanted the naming rights to the field, meaning they wanted to donate the entire $300,000. We thought, of course, they would name it Walrich Field, (but) they said they wanted to name it Hope Field.

"I just covered my face with my hands and some tears started coming. ... He took out his checkbook and made it legit, wrote a check right there for $300,000. I had never seen anything like it before."

The field — the cost of the Pro Turf was reduced when the Skillman Foundation invested $200,000 to get the project started — is now complete with the name "Cody" in one end zone and "Comets" in the other. The goalposts were donated by the Lions.

"It's brought the spirit back," Norman said. "I went to school at Cody, played on a field that was real nice, but then over the years I noticed the field started to decay and it hurt my heart. When I got the job in 2008 they wanted me to play over here, but I refused to play here because I saw the field and felt people could get hurt. We played at Redford High School for two years, then the third year at Mackenzie, but we played at different places after that.

"Chris Lambert gave light to every kid who is out here, not only the kids but the entire community."

So, why did Lambert, a 34-year-old native of northern Indiana, move from Los Angeles to Detroit with his Life Remodeled non-profit organization?

"My wife and I have a real passion for diversity and a real passion where people are in need and Los Angeles had that, but Detroit crossed our mind because my wife actually grew up here," Lambert said of his wife, Andrea (Gherghel), who attended school in southwest Detroit until she was 8 years old before moving to Farmington Hills where she graduated from Harrison. "This is where God wanted us to be."

And the players appreciate the gesture — and commitment.

Cody (4-3) has won two of three at Hope Field, including a 24-0 decision over Henry Ford in its first game.

Cody plays at Detroit Northwestern at 2 p.m. Saturday in the PSL consolation semifinals, with the winner keeping its state playoff hopes alive.

"It was a lot of fun playing out on that field," junior quarterback Omar Salih said. "We had the whole community come out and watch us play."

Said senior Billy Taylor, a 6-foot-5, 370-pound offensive lineman: "I had some family members that grew up through the school system ... and they didn't have what we have now. We have a new field, new jerseys and so many people supporting us, doing things for us. It means a lot of people care about us, the community, the school and how the students are going to turn out to be.

"It makes us want to help give back."