A Sustainable Legacy
By Steve Pate
Long after seventh-grader Emily Martin departs Ousley Junior High . . . long after her high school years have also come and gone . . . 1,014 trees will continue to grow in her city.
"It's exciting," Emily said. "We get to have nice, new trees to help 2014 be nice and awesome. I never thought about a basketball tournament doing this."
And likewise, long after the Men's Final Four departs North Texas, the NCAA and North Texas Local Organizing Committee will have left a number of lasting legacies.
Among them: The trees of Arlington.
Emily and three of her seventh-grade cohorts, along with four Arlington dignitaries, broke sod on the first four of those 1,014 trees on a cool, sky-blue morning at Ousley (pronounced owls-lee) Junior High on February 12.
The four dignitaries making speeches, then wielding shovels to commemorate the first tree planted just outside the main building at Ousley, included Arlington mayor Dr. Robert Cluck; Dr. Marcelo Cavazos, superintendent of the Arlington Independent School District; Heather Dowell, urban forestry and land manager of City of Arlington Parks Department; and, Ronnie Price, president & CEO of Experience Arlington Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Also in attendance were teachers and their seventh and eighth grade classes. This project is for Arlington, including at least four new trees at every junior high in the AISD.
Dr. Cluck encouraged everyone in attendance not to stop at 1,014. Go out and plant even more.
"In 2009 the City of Arlington paid a consultant to look at our tree canopy," Dr. Cluck said. "That is, how many trees we have per mile in Arlington. At that point, about 22 percent of our land mass was covered with trees. Not enough. I'm calling on everybody to help us plant another 10,000 trees or more in the next 10 years. The more trees we have, the less pollution we have. Trees are very important to our environment."
"When I see all these trees going in, I'm as excited as a kid getting a new video game to play for the first time," Dowell assured the throng.
Dowell says the incredible enthusiasm from Ousley principal Lora Thurston prompted the decision to plant the first trees at Ousley, located in south Arlington. It didn't hurt that Ousley's boy's basketball team has won a record five consecutive district titles and was playing for a sixth this coming Saturday.
"We chose the number 1,014 because 1,000 is a large, but attainable, goal," Dowell said. "The 14 is to celebrate the 2014 Final Four. When we phoned each junior high about this project, principal Thurston was so interested in the tree planting and wanted her kids involved. When we get someone who's filled with gusto and the love of trees, we go that direction."
Dr. Cavazos spread more seeds of enthusiasm.
"It's a teaching tool for our students, for our staff, and for our community," Dr. Cavazos said. "When we think of our environment and when we think of the place we live, we are actually doing something tangible to affect it . . . And as part of our strategic plan, we are committed to making sure that students give back to their community."
Price said, "Looking at these legacy projects like this – planting 1,014 trees in the city of Arlington alone – as well as all the wonderful things they're doing across North Texas, is something we're all proud of. I can't think of any kind of legacy project that would have such an impact for us."
Other Final Four "green" projects, known as sustainability efforts, include:
• A green court, refurbished annually with money donated by the host Big 12 Conference, will be created primarily with recycled materials for the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center.
• Final Four volunteers will donate four non-perishable food items each for local food banks in exchange for their Final Four volunteer uniforms.
• The Fan Express (tickets available now at DART.org/FinalFour) will be a rail and bus service option for getting to AT&T Stadium for Final Four events Friday through the championship game on Monday night.
• EPA representatives will educate NCAA youth clinic participants on the benefits of going green; and, several students in grades 3-8 will concentrate their SLANT projects on environmental health.
• North Texas artists are invited to showcase their artwork made of sustainable, or recycled, materials. The artwork will be displayed at a show called Renew. Reduce. Replay. Start with Art!