Tim McLaughlin was playing hooky from work on the day that his life changed.
On an overcast February day last year, he decided to tag along with his wife, Liz, on a bus tour of some Oklahoma City schools. The tour was being led by the Wes Welker Foundation, which wanted to expose donors to what they'd done and what they still wanted to do. The McLaughlins knew the NFL wide receiver from his time at Heritage Hall, where their three kids go to school.
Tim figured the tour was a good excuse to get out of the office.
“I thought it would be a much better option than going to work,” he said. “I thought it would be a lot more fun.”
But after a few hours, he wasn't having any fun.
Tim saw athletic facilities in complete disrepair and fields that couldn't even be used — and it made him angry.
He decided something had to be done.
“A lot of people say they want to do good things,” Oklahoma City Public Schools athletic director Keith Sinor said, “but he actually does good things.”
What grew out of that day is Fields & Futures, a nonprofit organization that has already helped fund the overhaul of six fields in the Oklahoma City Public Schools district. It has a goal of fixing a total of 44, then establishing a multimillion dollar endowment that will provide for upkeep and repair. The hope is improving the fields will increase the number of kids playing sports and that more of them will reap the benefits of athletics.
Fewer behavioral problems.
Tim McLaughlin had seen the positive impact of sports in his own kids and in kids on their teams.
“You see how sports is important to kids,” he said. “It's one of the greatest motivators that we've got.”
So, what motivates him? Why start Fields & Futures to benefit schools to which he has no ties? Why throw himself behind a project that seems so far removed his life?
It's the unique convergence of all the things that matter most to him.
Tim McLaughlin lives in a sprawling house on the extreme northwest corner of Oklahoma City. Built on a lake, it has a pool and a driving range and a putting green and a soccer field.
Yes, a soccer field.
(Tim is the lead investor in the efforts to bring a North American Soccer League team to Oklahoma City.)
His father, David, started Advance Food in the 70s, and the food production company grew from a few employees at one facility to thousands of employees at several locations in Oklahoma and Iowa. Meat became their specialty. Breaded meat. Precooked hamburger patties. Philly steaks.
Tim became vice president of corporate accounts, and those accounts were big.
In 2008, the company's total sales reached $500 million.
A couple years later, the McLaughlin family sold its majority share in Advance and merged with Pierre Foods.
Turning over control of the company changed Tim's workload. He had more time for family activities, including his kids' sports which kept them busy during the school year, then took them all over the country during the summer. But Tim still found himself with extra time on his hands.
“I was kind of lookin'” for a new project, he said.
His family had always been civic-minded, especially his mother, Jean.
“She was everywhere doing stuff,” Tim said. “Always the first to raise her hand.”
And when he went on that tour with the Welker Foundation, he realized it was his turn to raise his hand. He loved the forward momentum in Oklahoma City, powered largely by MAPS, but the tour opened his eyes to the fact that the capital improvement program hadn't fixed everything. It provided Oklahoma City Public Schools with funds to improve buildings but left the fields largely untouched.
Tim oversaw the construction and maintenance of that soccer pitch at his house, so he knew a thing or two about building fields.
“I can help with this,” he thought that day on the tour.
Sinor, the district A.D., met with the tour group, and Tim took one of his business cards.
“I didn't expect to hear from him,” Sinor admitted.
He figured Tim would be like lots of folks — see a problem and feel the need to do something but lack the follow through — but Sinor got a call from Tim within 24 hours.
Tim wanted to know about Sinor's plans. Sinor had been the district A.D. for less than a year, having left Deer Creek where he was the high school principal to take over sports in the district where he grew up and started his career in education. He had a grand master plan to bolster athletics in the district. Renovate all of the fields at the high schools and middle schools. Provide mentors for every coach and athlete in the district.
Tim sat in awe as Sinor laid out his plan.
“You're going to need a lot of help,” Tim told him. “Who's behind you on this?”
Sinor assured him that the superintendent and school board were behind him. After Tim met with them and was sure of their support, he started to devise a plan.