9th Ward Field of Dreams: Hope Is a Game Changer

In the still-aching 9th Ward of New Orleans, ideas on community repair are not hard to come by. Good ideas, in fact, aren’t hard to come by. But if you’re out to find those ideas being realized–rebuilding actually happening–you’ll have to look harder. Lucky for his community, Brian Bordainick of Teach for America is learning the ins and outs of that all-too-rare type of idea, the one made manifest.

In the summer of 2007, 22 years old and fresh on his requested assignment to a New Orleans school, Bordainick became the youngest high school athletic director in Louisiana’s history. As if it weren’t enough for him to tackle the job of a more seasoned instructor in some of the most difficult teaching circumstances imaginable (2007/2008 marked the first return to George Washington Carver High School after Katrina, and classes continue to be taught in trailers), he quickly identified the need for a new football field and track. With almost equal quickness, he set out to build it. Calling his project “The 9th Ward Field of Dreams,” Bordainick has spearheaded the effort to raise the $1,847,568 needed for the facilities. And thanks to donations from individuals, local businesses, and corporations such as Nike, he’s almost halfway there.

Why does Bordainick want to build this track and field? “We want to show the city of New Orleans that coming together as one is possible, ” he says. Of course this unity is achieved in the act of collaborative fund raising and planning, but Bordainick is also banking that it will come about thanks to the football games and track meets themselves. He has said, “People might ask why are we building a football field before we even have a school building. I just know that sports can help build a school’s identity and bring a community together.” His drive also comes from helping students specifically. “Most importantly,” he says, “the children are beginning to buy into the fact that tomorrow is going to be a better day than today, and no matter what happens, that is something you could never put a price tag on.”

Unfortunately, though, the price tag remained on the football field and track. While his passion for his mission may have been the key factor in raising the $850,000 that the project has so far, the nitty gritty things–the phone calls, grant proposals, meetings, and fundraisers–still had to happen. Guiding his team of “the right people,” i.e. “people who are in this for the kids and not for themselves,” is something Bordainick has learned to do well.

He says, “One of the greatest challenges that we are currently facing is how to keep everybody on the same page. This project is continually changing, and if you talk to me at 8:00 a.m., you get one update, talk to me again at 5:00 p.m., and this project is in a completely different place.  To overcome this we are tapping into the people that need to be completely up to speed and those that don’t.  Not everyone needs to know that we have a four hour discussion about drainage pipes, but everyone wants to know when we cross the million dollar mark.  Give people the information they need to stay engaged.”

Along with people management, striving for overall efficency is another factor that has brought Bordainick closer to his target. He says, “Our goal is to execute on a project, and everything that we are doing better be taking us closer to that goal, and if it isn’t, then we don’t do it.” He’s found that the best way to approach those mission-fulfilling tasks is a stop-at-nothing attitude. He advises, “If you believe in what you are trying to do, you have to be tenacious and refuse to take no for an answer.”

Finally, Bordainick and his team may not have found their field so close to opening day without a little defiance. He says, “You should not let history tell you what you can and cannot do; rather, let your imagination and passion tell you what you believe is possible, and then work your ass off to get to that point. When a pipe dream gets mixed with relentless passion, it’s a dangerous combination.”

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