Deep in the heart of Kingwood, Texas, 25 miles northeast of Houston, Swanson Field will forever be a lasting reminder of a group of parents who demonstrated love of their community and the sport their sons played.
Gina Swanson, her husband Todd, and two other couples spearheaded the building of a first-class football facility that continues to serve the community today.
The project was so massive that their oldest son Travis, now 25, never got to play at the field that occupied much of his family’s life during his youth.
Instead, he created his own legacy. Travis Swanson is the starting center for the Detroit Lions, and the first player from Kingwood High School to make it to the NFL.
When Travis was five, Gina noted that her son was becoming more aggressive during play times with his friends.
She came across an advertisement for the Kingwood Youth Football program (KFL), and considered that it may help him channel his abundant energy.
“I thought ‘if we put him out on the field, that’s a place he could be aggressive and find a happy balance,’” she said.
That was 1995, and shortly after Travis was enrolled, Gina and Todd became KFL board members. Todd became president a few years later.
One of the KFL’s top priorities was to secure a playing facility within the community where area activities could be hosted in a safe environment.
By 2001, the board was able to sign a 10-year lease on a 10-acre property where the project began to take shape: three fields, two press boxes, a concession stand, meeting rooms and a parking lot to accommodate the future activity. The lease was for $10, but the KFL was responsible for the improvements to the property.
The “improvements” started in 2002 with site clearing and preparation, and water and electricity had to be installed before the structures could be built.
The small group called upon the expertise of others in order to undertake the huge project. One family member had building expertise, while another contributed business acumen.
Todd was responsible for spearheading the project’s fundraising. Alspaugh, a local Ace hardware store, donated materials for the press boxes, concession stands and meeting rooms.
Gina Swanson had never built anything with her hands, but that changed quickly.
“I learned how to excavate, how to lay a sprinkler system,” she said. “We walked that field 1,000 times picking up glass embedded in the ground.”
Travis and younger brother Conner were also part of the clearing and building crew and got plenty of dirt under their fingernails.
“It became a mission that this was going to happen,” said Gina. “It was emotionally draining and physically exhausting but it was exciting to see the progress. We never came across a brick wall. Everything was well planned, well thought out—it just all fell into place.”
Two years later, in 2004, the facility opened.
Travis was already in middle school and Conner would become the beneficiary of his family’s efforts, playing three years in the youth football league at the new facility.
“It was three families who coordinated the project, but it took the entire community to build it,” said Gina. “That’s the key to success of the programs for our kids. You’ve got to have parental involvement.”
An All-State selection by the time he was a senior at Kingwood, Travis’ next stop in his football journey came at the University of Arkansas.
Gina and Todd were eager to go along for the ride. They traveled to all 63 Razorback games—home and away— during his five years in Fayetteville.
After redshirting in 2009, Travis would enjoy a Razorback-record 50 consecutive starts at center over the next four years.
Gina had taken an athletic department position with the Humble Independent School District, and found her bosses accommodating and flexible with her schedule. “They told me ‘if my son was doing what your son is doing, I wouldn’t want to miss it,’’” she said.
“Home” games meant an 8.5 hour drive, so Gina had to be creative with her 40-hour work week.
“Monday night I might work a volleyball tournament or a baseball game – whatever was in season,” she said. “On (Arkansas) open weekends I might work the district’s football games on Thursday and Friday nights.”
“Having my family be able to come to all of my high school and college games was extremely unique in itself just because you don’t see that a whole lot nowadays,” said Travis, who became an All-SEC center in his junior and senior seasons.
Conner was also playing JV football in the Kingwood school system.
“It was 100% fulltime sports for our family,” said Gina. “It is interesting what you can balance when it comes to your time. You make everything work.
“We knew it would fly by quickly. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We loved every minute of it and wouldn’t change it for the world.”
In addition to attending his games, Travis knew Gina had his back.
“She always tells me a quote that goes ‘The journey of a thousand miles begins with one single step.’ That has always stuck with me and through my career has helped me when times might have been tough.”
While the Swansons were following Travis’ collegiate career, the KFL’s 10-year lease ended. The league was able to purchase the property, as the original contract had stated, and today operates it as a non-profit organization. Lights have been added since the initial construction.
“It’s a big honor and it’s wonderful to watch the league grow and evolve to where it is today,” said Gina, who estimates that more than 400 youngsters suit up to play each week.
Travis became only the 11th Razorback in history to serve two years as a co-captain. and in December 2013, received his criminal justice degree. He got married in March of 2014, was chosen by the Lions in the third round of the NFL draft in May, and by December had started six games as a 6’6”, 304 lb. rookie.
Conner chose not to continue his football career after his junior year of high school, and today he’s a student at the University of Arkansas majoring in recreation and sports management. After graduation next December, he hopes to manage a facility like the one his family built in Kingwood.
Two years ago, Todd and Gina left 25 years in Kingwood behind and moved to Fayetteville, a place they had come to love.
Gina is still involved in her son’s football career, serving as assistant secretary of the NFL-wide Professional Football Players Mothers’ Association.
The mothers represent all 32 NFL teams and meet by region, raising funds for charities and players’ foundations. They conduct community reading programs, and spearhead Thanksgiving turkey drives and Christmas toy drives.
They also share experiences.
“We bounce things off of others about having sons in the NFL. What to do, what not to do,” said Gina, who also has a full-time job and is attending the University of Arkansas to pursue her lifelong dream of receiving a business degree.
Recently she was asked to speak at a Detroit Lions’ clinic that reaches out to Moms with football-playing sons at all levels: youth, high school and college.
“The clinic was about learning techniques on the field, and how to advocate for your children off the field,” said Gina. “Concussion awareness has become prevalent. We tell them ‘you have a voice. Here are key components to watch for. Learn what’s being taught to your kids.’”
Gina and Todd no longer travel to every game to see Travis play.
“We decided when he got to this level we would only go to four or five games each season,” Gina said. “It’s different now – he’s married and they have friends and (his wife) Emily has family. We give them their space. But if we’re not there, we’re watching on TV!”
“She always texts to remind me to take each day as it comes and only control the things that you can control,” said Travis. “I’ve come to find out that this applies not only to football but to life as well.”
Earlier this season, the Lions played the Houston Texans and the Swansons were there for the homecoming. The pre-game tailgating included many of their friends from Kingwood.
“We had such a great time at the game,” said Gina. “It’s a wonderful legacy to go back to. It was very exciting for the community to see Travis play. He’s their son, too.”
In 2005, when the KFL facility had been opened for a year, one of the three fields was named “Swanson Field” in honor of the family’s contributions.
“It means a great deal to me to have a field in Kingwood with our name on it,” said Travis. “It means even more to me that it is “Swanson Field” and not ‘Travis Swanson Field.’ What I mean by that is I have not gotten to where I am today completely by myself. It has taken a lot of support from my family and I will forever be grateful for that. Along with a few other families, my parents, brother and I built that facility from scratch, so the entire complex means a lot to us.”
“Back then, I couldn’t have fathomed any of this. We feel so blessed,” Gina said. “We’re looking forward to Travis giving back to his community in the future.”