Underwood builds Checotah play area
BY JENNIFER CHANCELLOR World Scene Writer
Saturday, October 15, 2011
10/15/11 at 7:06 AM
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CHECOTAH - Without a doubt, country music star Carrie Underwood is true to her school.
The singer returned to her hometown of Checotah on Friday for a full day of volunteer work with her nonprofit foundation at the Marshall Elementary School playground.
Her Checotah Animal, Town and School - or CATS - Foundation joined more than 200 other volunteers to install a play area on the school grounds that will double as a community park, she said.
"I went to school here my whole life," the "American Idol" winner said of her childhood years. "I really enjoy this town, and I want kids especially to feel like they have things to do."
The treehouse-themed equipment features mini trees, planters, faux tree stumps with a ground-level treehouse and dozens of other items.
"Why a playground? Because this is something that can affect the rest of their lives," including combating obesity and teaching healthy habits, Underwood said.
The playground's design is based on drawings created by children who participated in a "design day" event in August.
Checotah's population is about 3,500 people, organizers said. Built in 1977, Marshall Elementary serves 452 students from pre-kindergarten through second grade.
Jeans rolled up to her calves, T-shirt sleeves pulled up and blond hair tied in a ponytail, Underwood shoveled dirt and mulch, painted and helped pour a tricycle path.
Volunteers laid 140 cubic yards of mulch by hand, mixed 10,000 pounds of concrete, installed trash receptacles, painted signs, laid garden beds and installed a running path in a little more than six hours.
Underwood's CATS Foundation funded the park development, but the value of the labor, tools and other items contributed isn't known, said Katie Morgan, KaBoom! Project coordinator.
KaBoom!, which helped with Friday's efforts, is a national nonprofit organization dedicated, in its words, to "saving play" by helping build safe and conveniently located outdoor play areas for children to encourage physical outdoor activity.
KaBoom! has helped plan and install more than 2,000 playgrounds across the nation since it was created 15 years ago. The project in Checotah is one of more than 150 playgrounds the organization will help build this year.
One onlooker had no trouble summing up the anticipation a lot of Checotah youngsters have felt about the project.
Rylee Campbell, 7, admitted that he doesn't know much about Underwood. He does know one thing for sure, though.
"I can't wait to get on that slide," he said excitedly as he shuffled his feet in the dirt.
Just minutes earlier, Rylee had thanked the singer and the other volunteers as a friend held a microphone for him.
"It is exciting to think about the thousands of kids who will benefit from what you did today," he said to Underwood and the volunteers as they gathered around him in the afternoon sun.
By mid-afternoon, a full day's work was nearly done.
"My legs hurt, my feet hurt, and my back's gonna hurt in the morning," Underwood said with a broad smile as she addressed the press. "It's been worth every minute."
Named after her high school mascot, The Wildcats, Underwood's CATS Foundation helped fund a new animal shelter for Checotah in May. In 2009, she surprised her former school district with all new band instruments for the music program, to the tune of $117,000.
Underwood had adopted her second dog, a dachshund mix named Penny, at the Checotah shelter last fall. Penny joins her rat terrier, Ace, on her tour bus, she said.
Underwood's mother also helped build Friday's project but politely declined to comment when asked to speak to the media. She waved her hands in the air and laughed, "I don't know anything. I'm just here to help."
Many other volunteers responded similarly.
They were there for the kids.
"To all the kiddos, ... you are loved a whole bunch," Underwood said during the playground dedication ceremony. "We'll be back! Oh, yeah!"
Underwood hinted that another community project would be announced near Christmas.
She said she's been spending a lot of time in the studio preparing for her next album release.
She's also prepping for her upcoming co-hosting gig at the Country Music Association Awards show in just three weeks. The show will be broadcast from her current home city of Nashville on ABC at 7 p.m. Nov. 9.
Original Print Headline: Underwood builds Checotah play area
Jennifer Chancellor 918-581-8346
Carrie Underwood reacts to second-graders Kayson Flud and Rylee Campbell reading a letter of appreciation for helping build a playground at her former grade school, Marshall Elementary School, in Checotah on Friday. DAVID MCDANIEL/The Oklahoman
Carrie Underwood talks with pre-K student Sidney Hamilton on Friday. DAVID MCDANIEL/The Oklahoman
Carrie Underwood poses with students and teachers after helping build a playground at her former grade school, Marshall Elementary School, in Checotah on Friday. DAVID MCDANIEL/The Oklahoman
Carrie Underwood helps paint a world map on the playground at Marshall Elementary School. DAVID MCDANIEL/The Oklahoman