Haslam family gifts $10M to Knox County Schools to modernize football fields

KNOXVILLE (WATE) – Knox County Schools was given a gift of ten million dollars to refurbish and modernize football fields at the 13 high schools over a 36-month period.

The Haslam family donated ten million dollars to fund the project. It is set to break ground in April 2016 according to Knox County Schools.

“We are humbled by the generosity of Pilot Flying J and the Haslam family,” said Dr. Jim McIntyre, Superintendent of the Knox County Schools. “This $10 million commitment is a tremendous opportunity to provide significant enhancements to high school academics, while also recognizing that athletics play an important role in the development of the whole student, and in the high school experience.”

In addition, Austin East, Bearden, Gibbs, Halls and South Doyle high schools will have their tracks replaced as part of the field renovation. The donation also includes an investment in academic support for high schools based on each principal’s needs.

“The Haslam family is proud to call Knoxville both our home and the headquarters for our company,” said Will Haslam, Pilot Flying J. “We are excited about the many potential uses of these new artificial turf fields for a variety of different sports and community events through all seasons. It is a privilege for us to make this gift to Knox County students and student-athletes in honor of my grandfather, James A. Haslam II, and the more than 1,200 Pilot Flying J team members who live and raise their families here.”

Knox County Board of Education and the Knox County Commission will be asked to vote to receive the gift at their respective meetings in early spring. The school system said the gift means the school system can not only play year round sports on the artificial turf, but Knox County Schools said they hope it will allow them to host more community events.

“This donation will help give our schools a great opportunity to become even more competitive in both academics and athletics,” said Jim Haslam II, founder and chairman of Pilot Flying J. “Athletics are an important part of the high school experience and this will help local students for many years to come. Our family holds a special place for academics and athletics in our hearts as both are important to developing youth and inspiring future leaders.”

On a rainy football Friday night in Knox County you’ll see players slipping and sliding on the grass. Fulton’s head football coach Rob Black says the grass fields often flood and can cause a mess.

“We lose tons of practice time and even have to deal with game situations dealing with inclement weather rain so forth and the field flooding,” said Coach Black.

He says with the new artificial turf, the wet weather will no longer be a problem. He says the gift is greatly appreciated by the student athletes.

“They are excited about the fact their field always looks good, the fact that we can practice on this field now,” said Coach Black.

South Doyle High School’s head football coach Clark Duncan says the grass fields are time consuming and costly to maintain.

“We mow our grass every two days with all the fertilizing irrigation that goes on, lining the field, painting, it’s just an endless job,” said Coach Duncan.

McIntyre says each high school will also be given $100,000 to make an improvement inside the classroom.

“Robotics, tutoring, lots of different great ideas can support different academic success for our kids,” said Dr. McIntyre.

McIntyre says they wouldn’t be able to refurbish the football fields without the generous gift.

“Everyone is really looking forward to having these types of facilities that we can utilize for a variety of different purposes,” said Dr. McIntyre

It’s an upgrade coaches and players appreciate.

“We’re getting the opportunity to give our kids a chance to play on what’s known as the best,” said Coach Black.

Dr. McIntyre says the Board of Education and the Knox County Commission still have to formally accept the gifts and will be asked to vote in early spring. He says the vote has to take place because it will be a change to the property. He says they will likely be very willing to accept the generous gift.

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