Haddonfield Memorial High School junior Henry Klaus didn’t understand all the fuss about a new turf field at the Bulldawgs’ football stadium.
Then he got the chance to play on a turf field, and, suddenly, it clicked.
“I didn’t really mind our field that much,” Klaus said. “I liked playing on dirt until I got to play on a really nice turf field. Now I am kind of excited for it.”
Next year, turf is coming to the Bulldawgs’ football stadium, as well as the adjacent, Victory Field, owned by the borough. The new installation is being funded by $600,000 raised privately for the just $1 million project, with the borough and school board covering the balance.
The installation of turf fields in the borough has been a lightning rod for criticism about the costs, even with private donations. The high school stadium resurfacing was originally included in an upcoming bond referendum for the public purchase of the 19-acre Bancroft property adjacent to the high school on Kings Highway East.
The successful private fundraising effort allowed local officials to remove it from the Bancroft funding, which is currently tallied at $12.5 million. But that amount still includes $1.2 million for the construction of a new artificial turf field on the newly acquired property, if voters approve the Jan. 22 referendum.
Leaders of the private fundraising drive argue the artificial turf fields will benefit youth sport programs as well as high school programs. They say it will also allow several overused grass field to recover.
“In a school district and in a town that has such large numbers of participation in athletics, and having so many teams not only high school but youth level and rec level, our grass fields are overused and we do not have an opportunity to rest them,” said Haddonfield athletic director Lefteris Banos. “The only logical answer is to have a turf field.”
Prior to the start of the fall season, Haddonfield girls' soccer coach Glenn Gess spoke about the poor conditions of Scout Field, which is the home location for the boys’ and girls' varsity teams. The field had suffered from years of foot traffic, became patchy at best with branches starting to hang over into play on the near sideline. While Gess will happily take the upgrade, he admitted there did seem to be something special about Scout Field.
“It is no secret that we have some of the worst fields in the state,” Gess said. “When teams come to Scout (or the Stadium), the first thing you hear our opponent and their coaches talking about is the condition of our field. They definitely get psyched out because most of them have nice grass fields or turf.”
The high school field is also scared with potholes and ruts that provide a home-field advantage, but also causes a good amount of chagrin.
Before the Bulldawgs’ Thanksgiving game with Haddon Heights, senior Adam Augugliaro spoke about the anticipation of the new turf, even though he will not be able to enjoy it.
“These guys have a bright future ahead of them and I know their excited about what the new field is going to look like,” he said.
While much of the attention has been put on the football team’s benefit from the project, the scope extends much wider.
“The coaches and student athletes are very excited to have a turf field to play on,” Banos said. “It will be for football, boys’ and girls’ soccer, lacrosse and field hockey and not only high school but youth. All the teams will have access to it.”
That doesn’t mean the fields currently being used will no longer feature high school games. There will still be schedule conflicts that result in games played on grass fields, but Banos envisions the majority of the contests taking place on the turf.
“Anybody that plays on a field is excited because it is just going to be one place where everybody will go and play their games,” Klaus said.