Orange Bowl panel giving back

Published: Wednesday, January 7, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 6, 2009 at 11:12 p.m.

MIAMI - As the Orange Bowl Committee celebrates its 75th year, it wants to make this fact clear: It's not just about a football game - or two.

The committee wants to build up the South Florida community. It did that by promoting tourism in its early years. Now it is investing in the community's youth, through sports leagues and scholarship dinners and, most recently, by renovating Moore Park in inner-city Miami.

"You can't have a celebration of a birthday without a birthday present," said Danny Ponce of Gainesville, who is president of the 333-member Orange Bowl Committee.

Leaders of the nonprofit group - which is hosting both the Orange Bowl and the BCS National Championship Game at Dolphin Stadium this year - said the Moore Park improvements are meant to give back to the Miami community, from which the Orange Bowl was born in 1935.

Committee members and dignitaries kicked off the renovations with a ceremony Tuesday afternoon. Afterward, as the bigwigs began to leave, Danielle McDuffie, 18, and her track coach stood in the rundown park.

She's a track standout at Miami Jackson High School, just 10 blocks down NW 36th Street, and has been practicing at the park since she was 4. McDuffie was part of the Miami Northwest Express Track Club - run by Jesse Holt - that trains there.

Her high school coach, Donnell Jackson, said she is "of the same quality" as U.S. Olympians Bershawn Jackson and Tiffany Ross, who also practiced at Moore Park.

As for McDuffie, she truly enjoys her success at track.

"It feels like I could be a winner," she said.

Now, thanks to the initiative of the Orange Bowl Committee - not to mention $2.5 million of its money, $2.5 million in a match from the city and another $650,000 from other donors - Holt's program and the local Pop Warner teams will get new facilities.

They include a new six-lane synthetic track, bleachers, lighting for the football field and a press box.

Miami Mayor Manny Diaz said that, like the Orange Bowl's founders, its current committee members have chosen to invest in the community - and create jobs - during economic hard times. He said Tuesday's ceremony was about rebuilding the city's parks for the sake of its children and about honoring tradition.

The Orange Bowl, of course, is a 75-year tradition in South Florida and in college football. But the connection to Moore Park goes back even farther.

It was the site of the two Palm Festivals, the predecessors in 1933 and 1934 of the first Orange Bowl.

" 'Have a Green Christmas in Miami' was the slogan, and a festival football game was scheduled for Moore Park," according to the Orange Bowl Media Guide. Organizers erected bleachers seating 1,800 people.

That year, the ragtag Miami Hurricanes held off Manhattan College to win 7-0.

Coming out of that same park this past year, the Junior Pee Wee team of the Moore Park Generals advanced all the way to the state championship.

"Football is serious in Miami. It is so serious," said Charles Brown, who directs football, baseball and basketball programs at Moore Park.

He has 250 children - ages 5 to 16 - in the football program, another 70 playing basketball and 70 playing baseball.

He said Orange Bowl officials assured them the renovations will be complete in time for the next football season.

"I was happy they're doing it," he said, "because I think that will increase our numbers by another 100 kids."

Ponce said the Orange Bowl Committee wanted to make a contribution that is "meaningful and lasting." He also stressed the diversity of its own members.

"So we look like and act like the community," Ponce said. "And I think that is one reason we remain relevant today."

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