Ryan Krull, the head football coach at Carmichaels High School, noticed the changes and differences when the Mikes were still playing in Class A. His assistants also noticed. And so did the Mikes’ players, especially after Carmichaels moved up to Class 2A last fall.

What they all noticed was that when Carmichaels played road games, the playing fields and facilities were being upgraded and often were better than what the Mikes were accustomed to at home. With each passing year, more of the Mikes’ opponents were switching to synthetic turf fields. Carmichaels, meanwhile, had stuck with grass at Coaches Field and that turf had gone decades without any major upgrades and was showing its age, which is approaching 80 years.

In recent seasons, drainage became a major problem. Because of heavy rain, several Mikes games – Fort Cherry and California are two that quickly come to mind – turned the field into something resembling a brown soup.

It is the goal of Carmichaels officials to make sure that such mudbath games will not happen in the future.

A funding campaign called the Carmichaels Field Turf Project kicks off today. The goal is to raise enough money to install a synthetic turf football field and to turf the infield of the Mikes’ adjacent baseball field. The goal is to have the funds in place and installation done in time for the 2020 football season.

“We have a saying, ‘You matter,’ and several kids, while we’ve been at away games, have looked around at the facilities our opponents have and said to me, ‘You say we matter, but why can’t we have something like this?’” Krull said. “It’s fair for them to ask that.”

When Carmichaels officials checked into the price tag for a turf project, Shaw Sports Turf, which has installed fields at Lucas Oil Stadium for the Indianapolis Colts and Paul Brown Stadium for the Cincinnati Bengals, among others, came back with a low bid of $721,000. The Carmichaels Area School Board has promised to provide a total of $250,000 – $125,000 per year over the next two years – and the school district has applied for grants, including an NFL Foundation Grant that would be for $250,000. The remainder must be raised through private donations. There is no guarantee that Carmichaels will receive any grants for the project, which makes the price tag a hefty one for a small school district.

“We realize it’s an uphill battle,” Carmichaels superintendent Fred Morecraft admitted.

A synthetic turf field, Morecraft said, would mean less maintenance than for natural grass and the ability to schedule more events on the fields.

“I want our school to be the hub of our community, and it’s almost in the center of town,” Morecraft said. “Our kids deserve this. Our community deserves this. This is not just for the football team.”

Krull mentioned the turf fields at Waynesburg, California, Chartiers-Houston, Charleroi and Washington and the impact they have had not only on the football programs there but the communities as well.

“When I spoke to Justin Stephenson, the athletic director at Waynesburg,” Krull said, “he told me that he has requests daily to use the turf football field from people in the community and from organizations, some of whom he has to turn down because he gets so many requests. He said it would be impossible for them to do what they do without turf.”

The football and baseball fields at Carmichaels can be busy places. In addition to high school games, they host youth leagues and adult baseball. For many years, the football field was the site of a mine rescue contest in August in conjunction with the annual Bituminous Coal Show. This year, it will host the Tri-County Senior Olympics.

“Our field maintenance staff has done the best job it could,” Morecraft said. “There were no upgrades for 20 or 30 years and the (football) field has been played on so many times that it has been showing its age. Something has to be done. If we resodded the field, then we would be spending at least $180,000 and it would have limited use. I’m not against sodding the field, but if we do, then we’ll have to limit its use. You don’t want to ruin it. And the last thing I want to do is hang signs saying, ‘Stay off.’ A football field belongs to the community.”

This is not the first time that Carmichaels has looked into the possibility of a turf field.

“We tried it when I was the superintendent,” said John Menhart, who also is a former head football coach at Carmichaels. “The price tag back then was $1.3 million. That was out of the question. It just wasn’t feasible. What they have now is almost half the cost.

“This is a great deal for the community. A football field would be used more in a month by the community, organizations and for education than the football team will use it in a whole year.”

The project does not include turf for Carmichaels’ softball field. Officials say that’s because the softball field is located close to a stream. In recent years, the turf football fields at Washington & Jefferson’s Cameron Stadium and Waynesburg University’s John F. Wiley Stadium have suffered extensive damage caused by flooded streams.

Krull said there has already been some backlash within the community to the project. He explained some of that is based upon misinformation.

“In hindsight, I wish we had done a better job of getting this information out to our community earlier,” he admitted, “but like I tell our students, mistakes are great learning experiences. We will do better in the future.”

Sports Editor

Since 1986, Chris Dugan has been covering local sports for the Observer-Reporter, and named sports editor in 2006. Before joining the O-R, he was sports editor at the Democrat-Messenger, and a former member of the Baseball Writers Association of America.

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