If there’s one certainty about the upcoming high school football season, it’s that Red Land won’t be playing a Sunday afternoon game at Mechanicsburg.
The Patriots return to John H. Frederick Field in a season-ending game against the Wildcats on Oct. 31 and unless something catastrophic happens, that clash won’t be pushed back two days because of heavy rain as it was last season.
In May the natural grass surface at the stadium, which is nestled in the back corner of Memorial Park, was ripped up as a project to replace the natural surface with artificial FieldTurf began.
The company FieldTurf Tarkett had a timetable to finish the field by the end of July.
“They definitely met that (deadline),” Mechanicsburg athletic director Andrea Teeter said in July. “There are some cosmetic things that need to be done around the field but the (playing) field itself is ready to be used.”
The Wildcat Foundation, which works in conjunction with the Mechanicsburg Area School District and, according to the Foundation’s Web site, provided the district with $57,133 worth of grants in 2007, raised approximately $750,000 to install the artificial surface.
“We had been talking about it on and off for about two years,” Teeter said. “It really got kicked off last fall when (the Foundation) decided that they were going to start a new Capital Campaign. There was a lot of talk about how (the stadium) is such a nice facility but we’re limited as to when we can use it.
“There were so many regulations in terms of who could be on it and when.”
One of those limitations came into play last October.
An all-day rain, much of it heavy, washed out most of the high school football schedule across the Mid-Penn and forced teams to play the next day or, in a worst-case scenario, on Sunday.
To make matters worse, the game against defending District 3 Class AAA champion Red Land doubled as homecoming. The ceremony announcing the queen and her court was held during the dance earlier in the weekend and the game was played in front of a sparse crowd. Not exactly the ideal homecoming.
This season the new surface should eliminate weather problems — with the exception of lightning — and help all five home games go off without a hitch.
“If we had a Friday rainstorm in early September that field was done for the year,” Teeter said. “It looked terrible, there were holes in it. We couldn’t have anything else on it.”
Teeter said the field was kept in top-notch condition but with the varsity, junior varsity, freshman and Little Wildcats calling the stadium home, the field tended to show its battle scars.
Starting Aug. 11, the field’s work load will grow larger.
Teeter confirmed that boys’ soccer will practice daily on the new surface — the games will remain at Northside Elementary’s field, which is wider than the stadium surface — and field hockey will play at least four games there.
In the spring girls’ soccer will practice at the stadium while boys’ lacrosse, a new sport to Mechanicsburg for 2008-09, will call Frederick Field home while baseball and softball can practice there when the diamonds are unplayable.
“(The Foundation) figured what better community thing to do than provide a turf field,” Teeter said. “It will open that stadium up to be used more than 12 times a year.”
Despite the shiny new field with a large Mechanicsburg Wildcat at the 50-yard-line, the football team won’t be on the field for much more than its home games.
“The school put a great deal of money into our practice field to have it re-seeded and last summer put a new drainage line in,” first-year Mechanicsburg coach Chris Hakel said. “There’s no doubt it’s a nice possibility (to rotate practice sites according to the surface of the game for that given week) when last year that wasn’t possible. But it’s going to be used for many other events. If we have that opportunity, we’ll take advantage of it.”
Don’t let Hakel fool you. He’s more excited than anyone for his chance to get his team on the new turf.
“I was going to wait until it was done to go see it,” Hakel said. “But I was down there four or five times to see it. It’s exciting. It just adds to the excitement of the upcoming season.”
Unfortunately for Hakel, the Wildcats must wait to step on the field as their first scrimmage is at West Perry on Aug. 16. The seal will finally be broken Aug. 22 at 6 p.m. against Lebanon in the team’s second and final scrimmage.
Officially, the first event is Sept. 5 when Hershey, coached by former Mechanicsburg head coach Rich Lichtel’s good friend, Bob “Gump” May, comes to town.
Lichtel died Sept. 21 of last year following an extended illness.
“That is one thing I’m committed to is not only keeping his memory alive but making sure those that didn’t have the opportunity to enjoy or know him understand what he did for the program,” Hakel said.
With Lichtel still fresh in their minds, the Wildcats look to improve on a 3-7 season that saw them lose four games by seven points or fewer and two by 13 or fewer.
“There’s more pressure created by our own expectations and our aspirations to compete at a high level,” Hakel said. “All that field is going to do is give them another piece in order to achieve those goals.”
Unlike Steelton-Highspire, which installed an artificial surface last year, Mechanicsburg will have its field set to go not only for the first scrimmage but for the first game.
Last season the Rollers were on the road the first two weeks and had to play at Harrisburg’s Severance Field in Week 3 while awaiting the field’s completion. After a scheduled road game to Scotland, Steel-High moved its Sept. 28 game against Trinity, originally scheduled for Cottage Hill, to COBO Field.
The Rollers didn’t play on their home turf until Oct 5.
“When the Foundation first talked about the project we weren’t sure if it could be finished by this year or next year,” Hakel said. “From the time I found out (the project got the green light) until it was completed was a big whirlwind. From what I understand they got this done way ahead of schedule.”
Teeter said the field has an estimated life of 10 years before maintenance will be needed to the surface. The new drainage system, which includes a retention pond near the scoreboard, should last well beyond that 10-year window.