On Tuesday, December 1st, Michael Thomas, the captain of the Energy FC, visited John Bratt's classroom at Dove Science Academy, located off of 23rd and Western in Oklahoma City.
The Grid was able to tag along and capture the incredible moments.
A Special Visit
Our purpose for the classroom visit was very special, and not the typical 'appearance' that Michael Thomas is accustomed to. We were on a mission to meet the students who conceptualized and helped construct the legendary 'Survivor Tree' tifo.
Within the inner circles of The Grid, members continue to discuss the tifo as a sacred item. An item that can never be 'one-upped.' An item that set the bar so high, that we will need to permanently lower our expectations regarding all future opening match tifo displays.
As soccer supporter culture continues to grow in Oklahoma City, and contributes a new chapter to the city's culture, supporters will always bookmark the 'Survivor Tree' tifo as a critical milestone or achievement; one that when looking back in 10 years will always be referenced.
Did those students in John Bratt's classroom, one winter morning, truly understand the impact they would be creating within the local soccer community? Did they know, in the moment, that they were going to contribute something so special to the community that, as a symbol, it could define Oklahoma City's soccer supporter culture? We had to go find out. And if they did not understand the value of their gift, we had to let them know..
The 'Survivor Tree' Tifo
The inspiration behind the 'Survivor Tree' tifo was a student's rendering of what a new flag for the city of Oklahoma City could resemble. In a previous (and ongoing) classroom initiative, John Bratt's students teamed up with The OKC Flag Project. When the students' creativity caught fire in discussions over flag designs, and collided with John Bratt's electric passion for soccer, the idea of the tifo was born.
The original flag design had the two horizontal color sections as red and sky blue. A quick exchange of colors to deep blue and Energy FC green, and voila!, the tifo was in its infancy.
Once the revelation was documented by his students, John Bratt called in for reinforcements. He reached out to his good friend and fellow The Grid member, Kevin Eaton. Between John and Kevin, they were committed to doing everything in their power to ensure the project was a success and great experience for the students.
During our visit with his students, John Bratt showed Michael Thomas photos from the creation process.
The students used a projector to cast an outline of the survivor tree on the tifo fabric in the gymnasium. "The stitching of the tifo fabric was going to be very tedious, so we outsourced it," stated John Bratt. He added, "Numerous sections had to be sewed together to make the one expansive piece."
With one student barking, "left, right, up, over a bit, no, the other way, perfect!," the other students used masking tape to outline the tree.
Before long, the shape of the tree came alive. Students used small paint brushes and white paint to paint the tree's branches and outline. Once the border was completed, the students called in the artillery, the paint rolls, to finish off the big section.
By 5:00 pm, all of the students who volunteered had left the gym to catch their rides. The painting had been completed. All that was left was for the paint to dry and for John and Kevin to bask in the victory and share enthusiasm for how The Grid would receive the tifo and how the community of Oklahoma City would celebrate its display on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing.
On April 18, 2015, prior to the match vs. Seattle Sounders II, at Energy FC's inaugural game at Taft Stadium, The Grid rolled out the tifo and pole banner displays in all their glory. The rest is history.
Any player you speak to who played in that game vs. Seattle will tell you that game was one of their best all season. As Michael Thomas put it, "The tifo was very inspiring to all the players and coaches. We didn't know what to expect about how the fans would turn out for that first game. The tifo set the tone for the season and forced the players to put aside all of their individual agendas and buy into a collective team goal. A goal to go out and fight for Oklahoma City, its heritage, and fans."
From a Player's Perspective
Michael Thomas explained to the students gathered how significant the downtown memorial is to him and his other teammates. When Michael first signed with Energy FC, he made it a point to first visit the Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial. He was deeply moved, and grateful that it provides a portal to learn about the character and values of the city.
Michael also went into great length about the influence supporters and fans have on the outcomes of games. He referenced the storied comeback win of Liverpool over AC Milan in the 2005 Champions League Final (worth the watch). "The fans never stopped singing and cheering," Michael explained. He added, "The players contribute their win to the fans."
A Soccer Culture
Dove Science Academy, grades 6 thru 12, is a tuition-free community school which enrolls approx. 450 students. Its only organized sports program is soccer. Let that sink in. Soccer, by far, is the favorite sport of its student body. Each year, 90 to 95 players try out to populate their boys and girls teams. They do not have a stadium, or a practice field. They practice in the gym on most days and hope to play their home games at Twidwell Stadium in Spencer, Oklahoma in Spring 2016.
Check out these bad boys:
If Dove Science Academy (the "Rockets") were a public school, it would be classified as 2A. However, because many private schools do not support competitive soccer teams, the Rockets must play in the lowest division sanctioned by OSSAA, 4A. As the game of soccer grows in Oklahoma, hopefully the formation of a 3A division can exist.
What's Next for the Students of Dove Science Academy?
Well, a couple of things.
1) Contribute the Tifo to the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum
Michael Thomas and several The Grid officers are committed to helping John Bratt's students get the tifo officially donated to the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum. We have some fun ideas on the table on how to incorporate the tifo into the 2016 Memorial Marathon and have the leadership of the Museum visit with the students.
2) The Formation of an 'Ad-hoc' Teen Advisory Board for The Grid at DSA.
After learning about the disciplines and best practices of The Grid, specifically our commitment to anti-discrimination and anti-racism, one student was so moved after class that she said the following, "I think it's so cool that The Grid is committed to growing a culture as unique and diverse as the city. I love that you're really trying to give back and add to the city's culture."
I was so floored after the exchange that I immediately asked her, "would you be willing to form a teen advisory board for The Grid with the singular focus on how to attract more diverse fans to Energy FC matches?" Her eyes lit up and instantly looked towards John Bratt as if she had just been given the keys to the Corvette. John Bratt nodded and said, "Let's do it. But we will need to get more students involved."
The Grid officers will go to the drawing board as well. If the group can fundraise and create a pool of paid tickets (i.e., resources), we can then ask the teen advisory board to find fun ways to attract new fans to the game of soccer. It's a beautiful thought to image Dove Science Academy students hosting new fans to games and teaching them the rules and traditions of soccer.
How You Can Give Back
If you're as moved as we are, and want to show your appreciation for the students of Dove Science Academy who helped construct the 'survivor tree' tifo, the students asked us to help them gain new supporters for their brand new supporter group, the 'Rocket Battery.'
The students have mocked-up a scarf. They will be ordered this week.
The group has decided on an $18 purchase price for each scarf. John is working on getting us a sales flyer in the coming days. In the meantime, if you'd like to support the 'Rocket Battery,' or buy a scarf, please make out check payments to "DSA Soccer." Mail checks to Dove Science Academy, ATTN: John Bratt, 919 N.W. 23rd Street, Oklahoma City, OK 73106.