In the middle of the summer, the greenest grass at Mater Dei High School is the new artificial turf athletic field that will be ready for the start of the football and soccer seasons.
The field is the sparkling $1 million centerpiece of a $2.5 million capital improvement program at Mater Dei that also includes a new asphalt track, new bleachers, new fencing and a revamped stadium area. There also is a new cafeteria and student center at the high school.
"I would hope that everybody that helped contribute to it is going to feel very good about the end result," Mater Dei Principal Dennis Litteken said Monday, noting some of the materials and labor for the project were donated by supporters and all of the money came from private sources. "This is the last phase of everything we've been doing the last two years. We have very generous people and we're very fortunate with being blessed with that kind of support and commitment to our mission.
"We could not have done, or continue to do what we do, without that help."
The new turf covered the field Monday but had not yet been stretched into place. The field alternates between dark and light green every five yards with "victory blue" end zones, as Litteken described the color.
The space for the new six-lane track is clearly visible and the old bleachers on the home side of the field have been removed, ready for new seating to be installed.
"We certainly didn't want to do a blue field or anything like that," Mater Dei football coach Jim Stiebel said. "We wanted to have an authentic all-purpose field. Probably the most exciting thing about this is that in this community, everybody that wants to can get out there and utilize it.
"The band, soccer, football, you name it, they can utilize it and not tear up the field."
The field is being installed by TTI Sports from Chesterfield, Mo. Stiebel said the company also did the field at Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin and is installing a new one at Quincy Notre Dame.
Mater Dei joins a growing list of metro-east schools with artificial turf fields, including East St. Louis, Edwardsville, O'Fallon, Collinsville, Waterloo, Freeburg and Columbia.
Turf fields are expected to be installed later this summer at Belleville East and Belleville West and a fundraising project is in place at Granite City.
"The advantage is we're going to be able to work every day on our field where we're going to play," Stiebel said. "That right there is a great advantage to me."
The Knights' football team plays its first four games at home this season. The Aug. 29 season opener is against Effingham, followed by home games against Elmhurst Immaculate Conception, Althoff and Mt. Carmel.
Mater Dei closes out the regular season with five straight road games, including games at Quincy Notre Dame (Oct. 3) and Owensboro (Ky.) Catholic (Oct. 11).
"There's going to be more soccer played on it than football, because you've got girls and boys soccer," Litteken said. "The band can use it for practice. It's going to allow our students an opportunity to utilize the space on a regular basis. With band, football and soccer, that's a lot of usage. The versatility and availability is going to be so much greater."
Litteken praised everyone involved in the project for turning the dream into a reality.
"I don't think (projects like this) are easy to do at any school," Litteken said. "But it's tough in our situation in particular because we're counting all on private money and support from our constituents and alumni."
Litteken was asked whether the new complex --part of a strategic growth plan that began in 2009 -- will help the school attract students and athletes.
"You've still got to be able to win and I don't know if the field allows you to be any more competitive," he said. "It's not always about winning or losing it's about providing the best possible environment you can for your athletes and students."