George Rogers Clark football team moves into new stadium
It is at once a sigh of relief and a swell of pride.
Finally, after seven years of having a new high school in Clark County, but playing all of its sports in their old digs, George Rogers Clark’s football team will unveil the new Cardinal Stadium on Friday night against Tates Creek.
“It’s just unreal, honestly,” said senior Blake Watkins, standing on the brilliant green turf a few yards away from where the signature Clark cardinal logo perches on the 50-yard line. “It’s just a whole different level. You look around and you’re just amazed by it.”
Clark’s stadium is perhaps the most elaborate makeover, but a number of schools have modernized this season, replacing old turf or tearing out grass fields in favor of a more durable, more usable surface. In Lexington, Bryan Station and Henry Clay resurfaced their synthetic fields. In Somerset, grass has given way to a stunning new turf field. In Jessamine County, East and West have made the switch. Simon Kenton, Bishop Brossart and Bethlehem resurfaced, too.
For months, passers by in Clark County could look down the hill off Boonesboro Road and see the $33 million athletic complex begin to take shape. The 5,090 seat football stadium comes first. In December, a 4,300-seat basketball gym adjacent to the school is scheduled to be ready. By spring, a baseball and softball field, a practice field and a true fieldhouse with a small field inside it are on tap.
“There’s been folks talking about this, and I think there will be people who will be out to the game on Friday night who may not have been to a game in 10 years,” said Paul Christy, Clark County schools superintendent. “This is not just a sporting facility for the school, this is a truly community facility here. And I think the community is looking forward to this.”
Tuesday, Clark players packed up their gear to move from their old locker room at the old fieldhouse to the new locker room at the stadium. They had only gotten a couple of practices on the new field since it was made available.
Clark Coach Oliver Lucas said logistically, the process has been difficult, but he’s ready for it all to come together.
“If I don’t see this place again it will be too soon,” Lucas said with a smile looking out over the old stadium with its Bermuda grass at the now junior high school. “You always like the history of things, but this has outgrown its welcome for us. We need to have our own place so that the middle school can have their own place and we don’t step on each other’s toes.”
Their new place has carpet and air conditioning in the locker room and a field that won’t be destroyed by Friday nights in the rain where natural grass surfaces go to die and uniforms go to ruin.
“We don’t have to worry about dirty, dirty uniforms so muddy we can’t even clean them anymore,” Lucas said.
With the advent of a new generation of synthetic turf fields that don’t carry the stigma of athletic injuries they once did, rain and snow no longer mean woe and worry for school officials.
“The big load off our back is the fact that on a Friday night if you had a football game in the rain, you were going to be babying that field for two or three weeks trying to keep it playable for future games,” said West Jessamine Athletic Director Mark Miracle whose field was resurfaced at the same time as East’s with a combined price tag of about $1.49 million. “The nice thing about the turf field is you can play three soccer games in a week, a JV football game and a varsity football game on it in a five-day span and it’s just as good on Friday as it is on Monday.”
Events like the VisitJessamine.com Bowl, a doubleheader that opened East’s and West’s seasons at East Jessamine would have been a doomsday scenario for a grass surface. But now they can have that and all their fall sports teams practice there, as well.
East Jessamine used resurfacing as an opportunity to fix an atmosphere problem at its stadium. Both the home and away stands stood about 30 yards off the field. The new field was set closer to the home stands, and the away stands were moved in.
“The response from the public has been outstanding,” said East Jessamine Athletic Director Michael James. “We’ve had scrimmage games this year where we’ve had more attendees than actual home scheduled games for football.”
In Somerset, the Briar Jumpers have installed one of the most striking turf surfaces in the state at a cost of about $750,000 with the sideline areas all in home purple and a special touch in the south end zone — a lined mini field for children to wear themselves out on during games.
“We’ve always had young kids play football in the end zone like they do in a lot of places — they have a designated area to play their own pickup games. We took it a step further,” Somerset Athletic Director Robert Tucker said.
Bryan Station resurfaced its field and track in time for fall practice to begin at a budget of about $1.2 million. “DEFENDERS” now runs in large letters across midfield, a touch missing from its old surface. Henry Clay’s $1 million project got started a little later and bled into the fall season, forcing its teams to find alternative places to practice this summer. The first soccer games got going on it last week.
For Clark, that sense of community around its sports hasn’t been missing — but became maybe a bit disjointed these last several years.
“We’ve been in this school for seven years, and we’ve never had a pep rally together,” superintendent Christy said. “We’ve never had a full, school-wide assembly program because we’ve had no place large enough to hold all the students.
“This will be the true completion of the high school. That means all the facilities for athletics and the academic pieces are all together on one location.”
As Lucas begins his third season in charge, he hopes that means a renewed spark for his team.
“It’s got to help us tremendously as a program. It’s got to make people want to come and play,” Lucas said. “Kids that haven’t thought about playing should want to come out and be a part of the new facility. It worked great for Frederick Douglass, it should work great for us.”