After the last piece of earth was moved, the final piece of stitching taken care of and the final dollar was raised, there was still the unknown waiting for the organizers of the Field for Tomorrow project that turned Wayne Jamison Field from natural surface to artificial surface back at the start of the 2005 football season. The unknown was whether or not the decision to make the change was the right move?
Before answering that question, it would be fair to realize it was likely the only move. The football field was all but destroyed for the prior two seasons. Frequent rain storms coupled with football and soccer games taking place at the same time left the field in ruin. Add to that a schedule of more than 100 events taking place on a surface that would likely be maxed out at 25 events per year and the disaster that could take place had taken place.
That was the bad news. The good news was that the Bridgeport community simply would not allow their children to have no choice but to participate on a playing surface that wasn’t just subpar, but possibly unsafe. The result was a grassroots effort to remove the grass surface and install a new artificial surface.
Once the project began, the support came with it. That support came from residents, businesses, alumni from near and far and many other folks. Almost everyone supported the project with the few who didn’t offering only outdated social theories and the inability to find a better solution. An even smaller minority suggested a new field be built with natural grass as a “cheaper” solution. Of course, when acquiring land, installing infrastructure, building bleachers, press box, concession stands, restrooms and other items were factored in, that idea was dismissed as quickly as anyone foolish enough to make the suggestion. The fact that some local media tried to push a "social fairness" strategy and cheaper solutions that weren't cheaper only made those involved more vigilant to get this done.
For anyone with any knowledge of the situation, it was clear that turf was not just a want, but rather a need. The fact that the Indians’ football program, which had turned October and November football games in the mud and cold into a personal hell for so many visiting teams thanks to their grind-it-out offense, was conceding that an artificial surface was even being considered is a testament to how poor the field conditions had become at Bridgeport High School.
Even considering the body of evidence in front of them for the need and then opting to move forward and completing the field, the question still remained as to whether it was the right move? As the field is set to begin its eighth year of action, the answer to that seems pretty obvious. You don’t really have to read between the lines when talking with BHS principal Mark DeFazio. DeFazio said the move has been a tremendous asset for the school. And it’s something he wouldn’t change.
“That field has made life easy for us as administrators,” said DeFazio. “It’s a really good thing to not have to be put in a position to tell the soccer programs, the middle school, youth football and others that they can’t use the field because it’s too muddy and they’ll tear up the remaining grass. Instead, we have this facility and our students and the community can use it.”
For the past seven years, the artificial turf at Wayne Jamison Field has likely hosted more than 1,000 events. When you add in the number of practices that have taken place over the same time frame, it’s very likely the number is triple that. None of that would have been possible with a grass turf.
“This past year we had well over 100 events on the field. It’s probably closer to 200 than 100, but it’s definitely way higher than 100,” said DeFazio.
Of course, the amount of usage on the new surface hasn’t been without some consequence. The current field is showing some signs of wear and DeFazio and others know that at some point the turf will have to be replaced. That could be in five years or 10 years, but they realize the clock is ticking. Because of that, the initial efforts to raise dollars and escrow money are already underway. And because of that, DeFazio said some of the carte blanche usage will be coming to a close to extend the life of the surface for the school system.
“We have to be careful, particularly during the next four to five years, because in that time frame we likely won’t have the money to replace the surface,” DeFazio said. “So far, we’ve been as cooperative as possible with the community and different sports that aren’t part of the school system so we hope those same groups will understand as we’re about to have make tough decisions on this field’s usage.
“Fortunately, the new (Bridgeport Recreation Complex) field that was just put in, some of the groups we can’t assist can find a home there,” DeFazio continued. “It’s not that we don’t want to assist those groups, but the reality that this field belongs to the (Harrison County) Board of Education and Bridgeport High School and because of that the high school and the middle school have priority.”
More than 2,000 games, practices and events later that the answer to the question as to whether putting in an artificial surface was the right thing to do is clear. It wasn’t just the right thing to do, it was the obvious thing to do.
Editor's Note: Cover photo shows Phil Nicewarner doing some basic maintenance to the turf at Wayne Jamison Field.