The Lawrence High School football team had its last practice on its old field on July 5. In about two months, they’ll start their 2016 season. Another month after that, they’ll start a new tradition.
Construction of one of two multipurpose turf fields began July 6, with the intent for the project to be completed by October. Along with the $3.6-million installation of Field Turf material at the school’s athletic facilities, the school will also install field lights at the football field. The Cardinals hope to start playing Friday night football games.
“If we have everything up and running, we will have at least one Friday night game,” athletic director Alyson Fischer said. “We moved all our home games to away in September and moved the first few in October. We’re hoping we’ll be able to move them back.”
The second to-be-turf field—the varsity soccer/varsity baseball field—was one of four fields on the school’s property found to have soil contamination. Three of the four have undergone remediation. Remediation on the soccer and baseball field will be completed as part of the turf installation project, Fischer said.
Fischer said the former grass field was only used by the football team in the fall and the girls’ lacrosse team in the spring. While the field was in good condition, the plan to replace it was mostly due to the fact that it wasn’t often used. And because Lawrence’s high school and middle school athletes share facilities, space had to be better utilized.
“If it’s rainy, we wouldn’t be able to practice because football practice field was very muddy,” Fischer said. “Not just football, but soccer and field hockey as well will be looking forward to not have to cram into one gymnasium or cancel practice because of rain.”
Fischer said he field will have a cork infill surface after the committee designated to handle the project listened to community concerns about health issues surrounding crumb rubber surfaces. Some believe that there is a link between the crumb rubber pellets and cancer, though it has not been substantiated.
“Our committee met for the past year and investigated different turf material,” Fisher said. “It will be lined for football, soccer, field hockey and lacrosse.”
The addition of field lights—a commodity Lawrence never had before—means more scheduling flexibility (events can be scheduled for the nighttime) and community events for the athletic department, Fischer said. It just so happens that Friday night football would be a product of both those benefits.
“It’s a positive thing for our program, our community and Lawrence in general,” head football coach Nate Jones said. “We pull a decent crowd on Saturdays, but Fridays are always better. It’s an event, it’s a happening. It’s a social outing—you really get a lot of the community to come out.”
Friday night games would also be beneficial to the families with weekend obligations, Fischer said, as day games can take up a large chunk of any given Saturday.
The school currently charges an admission fee of $2 for students and $4 for adults at home games, but Fischer said the added revenue that may come on Friday nights was not a primary concern for the athletic program.
Jones said his players have been following the developing plans for a new field since it began. They will no longer have to purchase screw-in cleats to accommodate grass field conditions, so players can look forward to playing on the same material many neighboring schools have.
“The kids are aware of how it plays on turf,” Jones said. “It just makes it even easier having it here at home.”
The light installation—a big project in itself—was a separate bid from the turf installation. Construction for a second turf field will be bid on in the next two to three months, Fisher said, with the intent to have the two fields ready before additional improvements are made. The first turf field will feature new fencing and the allotment of more bleacher seating, and the facility will be open to community use when scheduling allows it.
Though there is no discussion of moving major school district events, such as high school graduation, to the new facility, the fields will also be used by health and physical education classes.
Perhaps most significantly, the field’s debut will be the next major move of an athletic program rebuilding, Fischer, in her second year as athletic director, said. The athletic program, made up of relatively new coaches, debuted a redesigned athletic logo that differs from the common Cardinal logo in May. The program has also been active on social media, tweeting photos of field construction and fall team practices this summer.
The school will be celebrating its 50th anniversary this fall, and plans to celebrate were put on hold until the field construction schedule were available. The new field—with its lights installed and Lawrence players sporting a new logo on game day—could celebrate the history that came before it.
“We don’t have anything for the 50th decided yet,” Fischer said. “We’re hoping to try get back as many alumni as possible. We have a lot of ideas, but no events scheduled yet.”