“Cleaning Up O.U. Stadium Pays Off for Oklahoma Saints,” Ensign, Jan. 1985, 79–80
Not long ago, a young educator visited the campus of the University of Oklahoma to interview for a job on the faculty. As he was being driven to the campus, his sponsor, who is not LDS, called attention to the Norman Oklahoma Stake Center sitting atop a knoll and commented, “This is the church that football built.”
Puzzled, the visitor asked what he meant. His host explained that Latter-day Saints clean the university stadium each Saturday after home football games in Norman, under a contract with the school; that is the way funds were accumulated to pay the local share of the building cost, in the days before the Church paid the major cost of meetinghouse construction.
Members in the Norman area have been cleaning the stadium for the past fifteen seasons. (Since they no longer need all the funds to pay building costs, they now use them to help support missionaries.) During that time, the cleaning work has helped reactivate members and bring a number of other people into the Church.
The project began in 1970 when some of the graduate students in the Norman Ward came up with the stadium-cleaning idea to help them contribute their share toward the building fund for the new stake center. The plan was approved by the bishopric and by ward members. University officials accepted the LDS ward’s proposal because it meant the stadium could be cleaned immediately, without letting the debris blow around over the weekend, and landscaping crews would not be tied up all week doing the job.
Now, members of the Norman First and Second and Noble Wards arrive at the stadium gates at 5:30 P.M. after home football games, prepared to push, sweep, blow, or rake the discard left behind by 72,000 football fans.
Sections of the stadium are assigned to families. Rakes and brooms used to clean under the seats and a large funnel to pick up the trash were especially engineered by some of the members in the early years of the project. The rubbish is pushed to the aisles, where it is bagged and moved down to waiting pickup trucks.
Baby-sitters are provided for children too young to work, but youngsters usually begin to contribute to the cleanup effort at age five.
The cleanup after each game involves some three hundred people for an average of three and one-half hours each—or about nine hundred to one thousand man hours. The three wards share equally in the funds the cleanup effort brings.
The project develops unity within the wards, helps families gain a sense of accomplishment together, and has offered a fellowshipping opportunity for many inactive spouses and nonmembers.
Will and Glenda Mattoon participated in the stadium cleanup before being baptized in 1978. Brother Mattoon, now first counselor in the Norman First Ward bishopric, was deeply impressed with the dedication of Church members. Sister Mattoon, now the ward Young Women president, recalls: “The members of the Church were practicing what they were preaching. They were teaching their children the work ethic, and everyone was willing to get their hands dirty to accomplish the goal that had been set—a new stake center.”
Favorable publicity about the project has generated an image of Latter-day Saints as dependable, hard-working people who practice what they preach. It has also led to other fund-raising opportunities for Church units and members.