Kendall Coyne Schofield and Michael Schofield put their stamp on a new park near where the gold medalist grew up in Palos Heights

When Kendall Coyne Schofield was a young girl growing up in Palos Heights, her love of activity and sports began primarily in area parks. So when the Olympic gold medalist visited a new park in her hometown last month, she just couldn’t help it.

“He was running up and down the team like he was a kid again,” Coyne Schofield said with a smile.

Coyne Schofield wasn’t just there to remember at an area park. She and her husband, new Bears offensive lineman Michael Schofield of Orland Park, were putting their hands in the cement to make their mark on Palos Heights’ newest playground. Kendall Coyne Dream Big Park in the Misty Meadows subdivision is just east of the Palos South Middle School baseball field, near the city’s water tower.

“I hope that any kid that walks into that park and has a dream knows that they can make it, like I did, like Michael did,” Coyne Schofield said. “That’s how our journey began, right here at home, running and playing like kids in a park, and he got us to where we are today.”

Coyne Schofield said Palos Heights officials approached them about a year ago about a park near his childhood home. She and Schofield decided to support the park as individuals, as well as under the banner of the Schofield Family Foundation, which is donating “a pretty big bench with a canopy,” Schofield said.

“We couldn’t say ‘yes’ fast enough,” added Coyne Schofield. “It’s super, super exciting.”

Coyne Schofield said that if there’s one thing that stands out to him about the project, it’s that “inclusion” was a key part of it. The park is accessible under the Americans with Disabilities Act, has sensory equipment and has layouts that reflect “anyone and everyone who wants to play,” she said.

“Hopefully it will be as inclusive as possible,” he said. “Any family, any child who enters the park sees that this park is for them.”

That vibe carries over to the sports theme of the park. Coyne Schofield grew up watching hockey in a nearby park, but the players were always boys. In this park, the hockey player in the photo is a girl. And while the duo is known for hockey and soccer, other sports are represented, including a Paralympic athlete on an apparatus.

“We tried every sport that we could reflect in the park,” said Coyne Schofield.

In addition to the bench, the Schofield Family Foundation donated a sign for the park. The couple also donated a portion of the cost of the park. His biographies will be featured in the space.

“We put our handprints in the concrete, which is great, so kids can compare their hands to ours,” Schofield said.

The couple said it was fun to see the project almost complete.

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“It gave me a little chill to know that we were a part of this,” Schofield said. “We talked about hockey sticks being in there somewhere, all these soccer balls, all this cool stuff in there. Seeing it come to life now and seeing it in person, how amazing it looks, was really exciting.”

Matt Fairbanks, director of Palos Heights Parks and Recreation, said the park was scheduled to be finished by the end of July, but delivery of a couple of larger pieces of equipment was delayed by supply issues until the fall. The ribbon cutting is tentatively scheduled for September, and the local athletic power couple said they plan to be there.

“I will always be touched that this park is named after me, and it was an honor to be a part of the project,” said Coyne Schofield. “This is something that will provide opportunities for children for years to come. Even when Michael and I are no longer in this world, this park will be. Knowing that kids can always come to this park and have the opportunity to play, be active, be creative and hopefully dream when they walk into Dream Big Park, no pun intended, is a dream come true for both of us.”

The Schofield Family Foundation was started by the couple in 2019 with the goal of “being able to give back and provide opportunities for children to go out and play and hopefully enrich their sleep in any way, shape or form,” Coyne Schofield said. In May, the foundation awarded a scholarship to Brendan Joy, a Sandburg graduate who will play golf at North Central College. And they have supported local organizations in various ways. But Schofield said it’s hard to top a park.

“This is definitely one of the things that excites us most about our foundation,” he said. “It’s a lasting impact that will hopefully last forever. This is probably the biggest thing we’ve ever done with our foundation.”

“To date,” Coyne Schofield added, “Hopefully there’s more to come.”

Bill Jones is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.

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