If momentum for Belleville District 201's "Turf for the Teams" project continues, Belleville East and Belleville West High Schools could be practicing and playing home football games on new artificial turf fields by the third week of the season in September.
According to District 201 Superintendent Jeff Dosier, approximately $950,000 of the planned $1.2 million project to build new artificial turf fields at Belleville East and Belleville West has been raised or pledged.
All of the money is coming from private donations from booster clubs at both schools and area businesses, parents, families, sports teams and other supporters.
The 2014 high school football season opens Aug. 29, which would make the district's goal of having both fields completed the weekend of Sept. 12-13.
"That's our goal, but we want to do it right," Dosier said Tuesday during an informational dinner at Fletcher's in Belleville hosted by 1968 Masters golf champion and project booster Bob Goalby. "We're not going to rush into this. We think that we have some great momentum and we want to capitalize on that.
"If we don't get it done by the third game of the year we'll have to adjust, but the most important thing is to get it done right."
Assistant Superintendent Brian Mentzer said the project continues to gain more support as more information reaches potential donors.
"We've got to capitalize on the momentum," Mentzer said. "There's folks wanting to be a part of it and if you let it go too long, the folks that are wanting to support you and willing to support you might forget about you."
The project includes a $50,000 pledge from one local business and the largest individual donation so far is $16,000.
The turf fields will not be used only for football. They also will be used for boys and girls soccer games, marching band events, physical education classes and other activities.
Metro-east high schools that currently have multi-use artificial turf fields include O'Fallon, Collinsville, East St. Louis, Edwardsville, Freeburg, Columbia and Waterloo. Mater Dei High in Breese is installing a new field now and Granite City has one in the planning stages.
Belleville West football coach Cameron Pettus said his players are extremely exited about the opportunity to play on a new field.
"The kids love it, it's a dream come true for those guys," said Pettus, who believes senior quarterback Sherand Boyd might be the most thrilled. "Sherand's super-excited, he talks about it and retweets everything that's said about the turf. The rest of the seniors are just jacked."
Would beginning the project later this summer still give the district enough time to have the fields completed for use this season?
"It depends on the company," Dosier said. "We've seen presentations where it can be eight weeks and some where it might take 12 weeks depending on the time of the year. Weather might be a factor, too."
Mentzer said beginning the project later in the summer comes at a slower time for contractors.
"We don't know it yet for sure, but we hope there will be a savings for doing them both at the same time," he said.
Dosier stressed that money for the project has been raised with private funding.
Different levels of sponsorships are being offered and every avenue of fundraising has been explored, including the selling of advertising on the field itself (outside the playing surface).
"Our board really felt like once we started it (in 2011) it was not the time to spent taxpayer dollars on it," Dosier said. "We're not even using tax dollars for this, it's going to be funded by our booster clubs, our sale of advertisements and donations from individuals, families, businesses and foundations."
The momentum from steady financial support has the district ready to begin seeking bids for the project as early as next week.
"I can't say it's a complete surprise," Dosier said. "Belleville, Millstadt, Fairview Heights, Swansea and Shiloh have a great history of supporting their schools. It's just a lot of generous people around here."
A fundraising dinner with former St. Louis Cardinals and Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith as guest speaker is planned for Nov. 13 at Fischer's Restaurant in Belleville.
Dosier said Goalby was instrumental in getting Smith for the event, just as he helped arrange a previous banquet with local sports celebrities including Dan Dierdorf, Mike Shannon and Dave Butz.
"He just has so many connections and a lot of the big names have a lot of respect for him, so he's been great," Dosier said of Goalby.
Another idea of Goalby's is to seek support for the project from former football players from Belleville East and Belleville West.
Want to donate to the project or need more information? Contact District 201 Superintendent Jeff Dosier at 222-8241, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by mail at Jeff Dosier, Belleville Township High School District 201, 920 N. Illinois St., Belleville, Ill., 62260.
There also is information available on the web at: www. bths201.org/turffortheteams/.