Coach Glenn Schott reminded me in April 2016 that the Althoff Crusaders enjoyed a decisive home-field advantage at the old Township Stadium, even though it stood on the former campus of Belleville West High School.
He would know: that turtle-backed turf was where he built the foundation of three state championships.
Still, how homey can the home field be when it requires a bus ride across town and a navy-and-gold retrofit to hide the built-in maroon and white? Or worse, when the maroon and white is too built in to hide — like when it alternates every five yards across the artificial field?
Finally, those concerns are history.
This proud high school football program finally has a home all it’s own. The Althoff soccer and track teams do too.
And it’s been done right.
There are several things that immediately stood out to me as I caught my first glimpse of the new George Martz Field on Friday night, just as the Crusaders prepared for their game against the Centralia Orphans.
First, I like the nearly goal line-to-goal line bleachers on both sides of the field. They only go a few rows back so every fan can get close to the action when the line of scrimmage moves toward their end of the turf.
The architects also minimized the wasted space between the grandstands, the all-weather track, the sideline and the playing surface.
High school stadiums are built to be utilitarian, as they should be. But at some recently-constructed multi-use stadiums, the view from the top of the bleachers and across that wide expanse that occupies the track and excess space, makes the action look a million miles away.
Those stadiums lack the intimacy that’s been achieved at Martz Field.
The new stadium also incorporates a natural aesthetic. The entire north side is lined by timbers that will deliver a grand show of autumn color as the leaves turn. On the east side is an open area that will someday be the site of new baseball and softball facilities. Beyond that is another tree line.
The main entrance of the stadium is on the southeast side, close to the parking lots of the school and next-door St. Henry’s Church. Inside is a wide area where friends can gather and socialize. A permanent concession stand and restroom facilities are part of the future plans.
Finally, the stadium sits just a few short yards from the school building, which I imagine creates a comfortable familiarity for both the current students and visiting alumni.
There are plenty of congratulations to go around for completing the first, major step in this overdue project.
It starts with the nine co-chairs on the fundraising committee. They include Andy and Joanne Blassie, Mike and Patty Guignon, Mike and Susie Riley, and Brad and Julie Ringhofer. Coach Schott and his wife, Pat, served as honorary chairmen.
Congratulations are due the greater Belleville business community, too. Some of those who supported the new Althoff stadium are among those who also answered the call to have artificial turf installed at Belleville’s two public high schools.
According to the Althoff website, they include: St. Elizabeth’s Hospital; Bank of Belleville; Bank of O’Fallon; Empire Comfort Systems; Padgett Building and Remodeling; Professional Therapy Services; Shay Roofing Inc.; Auto Spa; State Construction; Federico Family Dealerships; Helar Tool and Die; and Becker, Hoerner, Thompson and Ysursa Attorneys at Law.
Architects EWR Associates and general contractor Byrne and Jones deserve a shout out for getting the job done right. The stadium is a beauty.
Finally, congratulations are due the Althoff students, faculty, staff and alumni.
There is nothing like high school football when it comes to bringing a community together. It is exciting to see this community of metro-east Catholics and this great local sports tradition finally have a home that’s all its own.