Leader Blues

Friday, June 16, 2006

SPORTS>> Panther Stadium is getting new turf

By Ray Benton
Leader sports editor

IN SHORT: Meeting held on Wednesday to discuss ways to raise money for new football field surface.

There’s now an addendum to the overhaul in progress at Cabot High School. The football stadium, which just completed its first season with a new field house and jumbotron scoreboard, will be adding an artificial playing surface, replacing the notoriously poor surface that’s currently in place.

The proposal carries a price tag of $650,000, and includes resurfacing of the track that surrounds the field. A meeting was held Wednesday morning to discuss ways to pay off the debt incurred for buying the surface.

Cabot athletic director Johnny White says little was accomplished Wednesday in regards to exactly how the money will be raised, but it was productive in that it opened dialogue in a positive manner.

“We want to set up a foundation that people can donate to in order to pay for this,” White said. “We didn’t really get that far with this meeting, but I had two people donate $1,000 dollars. We made it clear this was not a decision based just on football. This will help our entire athletic department and band, and we want the community to use this field too.”

Maintenance of the natural- grass surface that currently exists costs about $10,000 a year, meaning the new surface may never pay for itself.

The need for “field turf” as it’s commonly called, according to Cabot athletic director Johnny White, goes beyond financial matters.

“That one field is used for everything,” White said. “We work our rear ends off over the summer to get that thing looking like a finely manicured golf course, and by October, it’s a mess the rest of the year. It never gets an off-week during football season. One of the junior-high teams uses it every Thursday. High school games are Friday. We have to schedule a great majority of our JV games away just because of the surface. The soccer teams have to do that as well.”

White says football isn’t the only school consideration for the turf. The band currently has to practice elsewhere, and carry that practice over to the field during games.

“The band is 100 percent behind this,” White said. “They’re having to practice on half a field and that makes it difficult for them. They’d be able to use it for practices. Even the baseball team could go out there, even after a downpour, and have outdoor practice.”

Supporters of the surface also stressed how significantly it could affect the parks and recreation department.

“We want the community to use this field,” White said. “We want city-league games to be played here. We’re looking at bringing in some soccer events. Right now we have about 300 people that come through those gates to walk the track every night. Right now we encourage people to stay off the field, but with this surface, people can bring their kids and they can get out there and play. This is going to benefit the community as a whole and we want the community to get behind this and help support it. We want this thing to be used. You’re not going to wear it out by using it. Sun damage and such is what wears it out. But they’re made to last 10-15 years. Kids that are in first grade right now will be using this thing in high school.”

Supporters are hopeful that the field can be ready for use by the opening of the 2007 football season. Cabot Junior High North plays against Cabot Junior High South on August 31, and that is the tentative and hopeful inaugural event for the surface.

“According to the companies that bid this job, it takes a good 35 days to get in there and get this type of thing done, so we need to get started on it very soon. That game between our two junior highs would be a great way to open the new field.”