COVID-19 brought spring sports to a halt, but it hasn’t slowed progress.
Work toward installing artificial turf on the football fields at Woodrow Wilson and Independence high schools is moving along as scheduled. The plan to resurface the fields was announced in March, just days before the coronavirus led state officials to close all state schools and ultimately cancel spring sports.
Raleigh County Schools Superintendent David Price had a conference call earlier this week with The Motz Group, the Cincinnati-based firm that is handling the resurfacing, and said everything is on target.
“They’ve done their core drilling, they’re looking at the design of drainage and everything that has to be done,” Price said. “We are getting everything to scale right now and engineers have been in. They’re right on schedule, even under these circumstances.”
Price said actual turf installation is set to begin June 1, if not sooner.
“It’s huge,” Woodrow Wilson coach Street Sarrett said. “Beckley’s been trying to get the field turfed forever, probably the last 20 years. Not just for the football team but for our community in general, it will be huge. Band, soccer, baseball, softball team, eight-lane track. It will just be a great bright spot for our town. Our middle schools and youth leagues, it will be exciting for them.”
“It’s a game changer for the school. Not just for football but the entire school because of the amount of people who will be using it,” said John H. Lilly, who will go in to his third season as Independence’s head coach in the fall.
Lilly echoed Sarrett’s sentiment that the desire to get the county’s football fields resurfaced has been a decades-long quest. He credits longtime area high school coach Mark Montgomery for his work toward the goal.
As more and more counties began to turf their fields, the frustration started to mount.
“We were kind of getting aggravated when were seeing counties that were less affluent than Raleigh County get turf fields,” Lilly said. “Logan and Mingo and Boone were all turfing all their fields, and definitely when we saw McDowell County turfing both their fields, an eyebrow raised. How could they afford that and we can’t when we’re probably a little more economically advanced than those counties?”
Mount View and River View will also be turfed by the fall. Greenbrier East and Nicholas County high schools have played on synthetic turf for years.
Raleigh County was able to secure the necessary money through its Capital Improvements Projects Fund. The project will cost a total of $3.6 million.
The biggest detriment associated with grass surfaces is the effects of extreme weather. Excessive rain has turned fields into mud pits, and drought conditions have created dust bowls. And as Sarrett and Lilly can both attest, abnormally muddy fields can even render footballs unusable.
“It’s not just for the five home games,” Sarrett said. “I’m excited for the daily practice and not having to practice in the mud or the dust. We’d go out there in late September or October and it’s pouring the rain and you’re walking around with mud over the top of your feet up to your ankles. You just couldn’t get anything done.”
The fields at Shady Spring and Liberty will also be resurfaced, but not until next year. Both fields have bleacher repairs that need to be addressed before new turf can be installed.
The bleacher work will start after the season.
“They were afraid they might run into something that would prevent them from having that part of it finished before football season,” Price said. “They felt like after football season and into the winter and spring timeline will be fine for what they need to do then. Then they can roll right in with the turf project right after that.”
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