BATH, Maine — Morse High School junior Alec Beveridge is ready for a “home team advantage” when soccer season starts this fall. No more soccer practices in the Bath Middle School gym or lacrosse practices in a nearby parking lot — thanks to the new artificial turf installed this summer at McMann Field.
“It got pretty ridiculous sometimes,” Beveridge, of Arrowsic, said Thursday of the mud that so often left city fields unusable. “One time we had to practice in my backyard.”
“The old field, it could get pretty mucky. You’d take two steps and try to make a cut and you’d just roll an ankle,” said Ethan Winglass, a wide receiver and safety — and the kicker — for the Morse High School Football Team.
This year, though, local athletes will be ready when their opponents roll up, thanks to a new artificial turf field at the Edward J. McMann Outdoor Athletic Complex.
Lu Luzano, co-chairman of the Fields for Our Future project, will watch with satisfaction next week as the goal posts are hoisted into place. After six years, plenty of controversy and $570,000 in donations, Luzano will host the field’s inaugural event on Aug. 17, when players from the Clipper Soccer Club will play “a friendly ‘blue-versus-white’ match” before the fall scholastic athletic season begins in earnest.
In December 2006, Luzano was part of a group of parents and others who sat down in the Morse High School library and tried to figure out what to do about the poor quality of the city’s athletic fields.
“We said, ‘The kids deserve better,’” Luzano said Tuesday. “The quality of the fields continued to degrade each year, but it was really about the availability [of the fields]. It’s Maine — the spring’s a crapshoot, and fields need to rest in the summer. That’s what really drove us to the idea of artificial turf.”
The McMann complex, with parking, lights, bleachers and concessions, was the perfect location — except that “nobody was there most of the time because you can’t use the field.”
So in 2010, organizers went to the Bath City Council, having raised $270,000,, and asked to borrow the remaining $300,000 to install the artificial turf. By one vote, the council approved the request, but a petition challenged that decision, and it was overturned in a referendum.
From that controversy, Fields for Our Future emerged. Parents, students and others held countless 50-50 raffles, raked leaves, sponsored road races and other events to solicit donations to pay for installation of artificial turf. In April of this year, the Bath City Council approved the project — providing the city incurred no costs.
The replacement cost was a sticking point for some councilors, but Luzano said the revenue Bath Parks and Recreation generates from renting the field to other entities when schools aren’t using them will pay for its eventual replacement.
Organizers estimate the number of hours the field will be used each year will increase ten-fold, from 200 to 2,000.
Fields for Our Future will continue to fundraise, to pay for improvements to upper and lower Tainter fields and a nearby practice field. But “the big value item” is nearing completion, Luzano said.
Morse High School athletes, who frequently play teams whose schools already have artificial turf, say the additional month of practice the field will allow is bound to result in better performances, and perhaps more playoff berths.
“We’ll be able to practice almost all year round,” Beveridge said. “We’ll have a head start against some of those teams.”
Nichole Laggan, sweeper on the Morse soccer team, said the field project has “brought the community together as a whole. Everyone’s worked so hard.”
Laggan, a senior at Morse, said the new field means this fall’s senior night — when senior team members are honored during the team’s last home game — can actually be held on her home field. Last fall, rain and a muddy field meant the girls soccer team held senior night at Hyde School, while the football team’s senior night took place on a Brunswick field.
“Mostly, I’m excited to see how [the field] brings the community together as a whole,” Laggan said. “Everyone’s worked so hard. I’ve been working since my freshman year [on the project]. I’m excited to see the turnout.”