Glenn Schott led a parade of friends and family across the all-weather track to the artificial playing surface at Althoff’s new George Martz Field.
The stadium, the first on-campus home of the Althoff football program, was officially dedicated Friday night, before the Crusaders’ South Seven Conference game with Carbondale.
Schott, the legendary Althoff coach, chatted his guests up as if he were a spokesman for FieldTurf USA, the manufacturer of the synthetic football and soccer field.
“There are 9.2 pounds of sand and rubber per square foot on this field,” said Schott, who won three state championships and more than 65 percent of his games in 37 seasons as the Crusaders’ head football coach. “It’s the safest turf there is.”
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It’s the same turf installed at nine Big Ten Conference football stadiums, plus Notre Dame, Ford Field in Detroit, and other multisport venues. To Schott, the field itself is the highlight of the new stadium.
“There were two things I wanted: the best lights and the safest field we can get for our kids,” he said. “We got them both, and I’m really proud of it to be honest.”
FieldTurf USA received some negative national attention when some of the playing fields it installed, mainly prior to 2012, failed before their warranties expired. Amid numerous lawsuits, the company blamed its issues on the manufacturer of the artificial grass fibers.
Construction contractor Byrnes and Jones recommended the new-and-improved FieldTurf to Althoff anyway, underwriting the updated turf’s quality with its own warranty.
Jameson Sheley, general manager of Byrnes and Jones sports division, said the surface at George Martz Field is among the best available on the market.
“There were some issues with the monofilament blades, but FieldTurf got all the attention because they are the biggest in the industry and had installed the most fields,” Sheley said. “We wouldn’t endorse this field today if we didn’t have total confidence in the product.
“There are two types of monofilament blades in the industry, and this one has never failed prematurely. This is a field we know is going to be here.”
Sheley also certified Schott’s claim that the field is among the safest currently available among artificial surfaces, citing a 15-year study conducted at Idaho State University.
“A kid is half as likely to tear an ACL on this field than (another artificial turf),” Sheley said.
Andy Blassie, co-chairman of the stadium fundraising committee, said Althoff had to extend the project’s budget an additional $50,000 for the higher-quality turf, but Byrnes and Jones came down $120,000 on the price so it could sample the turf in the metro-east.
“We’ve got a great field here that we paid way below market value to get,” Blassie said. “We really got lucky with the timing.”
The new stadium also includes seating for 1,500 fans. The typography of the school property — with its steep ravine behind the north sideline and service road between the stadium and the school building to the south — forced architects to design a wider grandstand with fewer rows. It stretches nearly from goal line to goal line on the home side and spans the 30-yard lines on the visitors side.
Whether it was intended or not, the design created an intimacy not typical of stadiums with deeper rows of bleachers, Sheley said.
A new scoreboard stands at the west side of the stadium, opposite a temporary concession stand on the east end.
The all-weather track has been lined for eight lanes.
The Crusaders played their first football game at the new stadium Sept. 22, a full week ahead of the projected construction deadline. Althoff’s soccer team picked up the first home-team victory on the new turf a week later.
But Friday night, before a South Seven Conference football game against Carbondale, George Martz Field was christened with presentations to those who organized and contributed to the $2.4 million capital campaign that made it possible.
An additional $600,000 remains to be raised for the completion of new baseball and softball fields and a permanent restroom and concession stand.
As excited as he was about the new turf, the proceedings were bittersweet for Schott, who built the foundation of three state championships at the old Township Stadium, the home field the Crusaders shared with Belleville’s two public high schools.
“Somebody asked me the other day if I was excited about this,” he said. “Yes, I am very excited about this, but I’ve been going to that other stadium over there for 55 years, and I’m going to miss it a little.”