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Willmar notebook: Schools making switch to turf

Tribune photo by Rand Middleton Ed Newberg of Hector hovers his 2005 Robinson Raven I over the Hodapp Field 50-yard line on Wednesday afternoon. The emergency measure sucked the moisture from the rain-soaked grid allowing players to gain traction for that night’s game.

Small colleges did it, some high schools did it, towns big and small do it, Alexandria is doing it, maybe Brainerd, too, and Hutchinson is on the way.

Turf fields may not be cheap but they continue to catch on. At least 30 Minnesota high schools have synthetic turf, most recently Sauk Centre and Rockford, both Class AA-sized programs.

Alexandria’s new field at its new high school will be turf. Turf is one of the options of a projected $3.2 million renovation that includes turf to the Adamson Field athletic complex under consideration at Brainerd. At Esko, where the Eskomo football field was destroyed by flooding, $700,000 was raised for a turf comeback by the Esko Turf Club.

The Hutchinson School Board voted unanimously Monday to act as the fiscal agent for a citizen-led drive to redo S.R. Knutson Field. According to the Hutchinson Leader, “The action places no obligation on the district to pay for any of the work. But it will help the renovation project planners as they raise funds because they won’t have to launch their own nonprofit entity for receiving donations …”

The $1.33 million project, fronted by a grassroots group from the community, is centered on a rubberized artificial turf field with an estimated cost of $900,000, half of that for site prep. The project would also add stadium seating and pay for construction of two press boxes, concession stand and digital scoreboard.

Hodapp Field is a splendid field of thick green grass with a noticeable crown to bleed water to the sidelines. But it takes a beating each fall with 18 to 25 events. Rain can create a soupy mess during heavy use, as in the past week. A whirling white knight (albeit not without cost) saved the home game.

Unlike Brainerd, where Central Lakes College has its own field, a single field accommodates the district’s football programs, plus the four or five community college games. A turf field also opens up options for soccer matches at all levels as well as an early-season site for baseball and softball practice when fields are thawing or rain-soaked.

David Hartmann, activities director at Alexandria, said money for the turf field was raised through grants and donations. He listed the cost of turf over sod at about $500,000.

While most of the high school turf fields are in the metros. Outstate turf can be found at Sauk Centre, Winona, Duluth’s Public School Stadium and Chisago Lakes.

A passing fancy

Willmar football this fall travels nearly 2-to-1 by air (2,070 yards) compared to ground (1,198). Junior Augustine Hahn has passed for 1,909 yards which exceeds the highest total of his predecessor, Alex Grove, who had yardage totals of 1,852, 1,525 and 1,317 last fall. Hahn will likely overtake Mark Dunham’s 2009 mark of 1,930 yards Tuesday against Buffalo.

It’s not just Hahn’s doing, of course. This year’s offense is blessed with capable receivers. Eight pass catchers have at least five receptions and eight different Cardinals have a touchdown catch. No fewer than 15 boys have caught a pass either from Hahn or backup Zach Radermacher, who like Hahn, is an accurate thrower.

Cross country team

The Cardinals will be trying to get both the girls and boys cross country teams to the state meet when they run at the Section 8AA meet on Thursday at Detroit Lakes.

What a season the program has had! Coach Jerry Popp emphasizes competing for the top at every level, not only varsity.

At the Central Lakes Conference championships, the girls were first and the boys second by a point. Both JV teams won — the boys with a perfect score of 15. The middle school girls placed first to finish the season undefeated, a rare accomplishment at any level. The littlest Cards had the first three finishers: Seventh-graders Heidi Schmitz and Leah Hansen and eighth-grader Allyson Pollock.

Marine marathon

Annette Rice, 47, of Willmar will run in the 38th Marine Corps Marathon on Oct. 27 in Washington, D.C. So will her son, Reagan, a senior at New London-Spicer, as well the oldest of her four sons, Julius, 28, of Tulsa, Okla.

Runners start along a road between the Pentagon and Arlington National Cemetery, sweep past the Capitol Building and finish back at Arlington ascending to the Marine Corps War Memorial.

Reagan went through basic combat training this past summer, just after signing with the military on his 17th birthday. This will be his second marathon, but he really didn’t care to run another one, his mother told me.

However, he saw an advertisement for the Marine marathon and noted where it started and finished and has changed his mind.

He will be running to honor SPC Christopher Horton, who died in action in Afghanistan the summer of 2011. He was an infantryman, SWAT and sniper qualified, who graduated at the top of his class serving with the Oklahoma National Guard.

Christopher is the son of Cherie Bonnema Horton, who grew up in this area and now lives with husband David in Florida. Christopher’s maternal grandparents are Marcy Bonnema of Willmar and the late Roger Bonnema.

Two years ago Reagan read a letter from Christopher sent to his grandparents here while on his first deployment. Reagan decided he wanted to be a sniper, too, and asked Cherie for her grandson’s email. They quickly exchanged emails.

“Two weeks later we got a call saying Christopher had been killed in action,” Annette told me. “People asked me if what happened changed Reagan’s mind about joining the military. Quite the opposite …” it only strengthened his ambition, now to serve in honor of his hero.

Annette’s two youngest sons and husband Rod, pastor at Word of Faith Family Church, will meet Julius and his wife in Washington. Annette just started running several years ago encouraged by her sons. Along with her three oldest sons, she ran her first marathon last year, which she says: “Proves you are never too old to start anything and your body is capable of much more than you think.”

On the fly

n Emily Minnick is having a solid freshman season at North Dakota State, though the Bison struggle at 1-17. The 6-foot-1 middle hitter is third on the team in kills (125) and first in kill percentage (.297) and third in ace blocks (15).

n Friends of assistant athletic director Manny Ronneberg, who is the event supervisor at Cardinal soccer games, suggest the new scoring pillbox on the east side of the Kennedy pitch should be named “Manny’s Mansion,” instead of “Manny’s Chicken-Coop” as earlier mentioned in this column.

n Strictly personal: Our first grandchild, an 8-pound, so-far unnamed girl, was born early Friday to Peter and Kristina Middleton. Importantly, on our first visit to Rice at noontime, I suggested selecting the three sports she would play at high school here. My suggestions are tennis (a lifetime sport), hockey (teaches controlled aggression) and track (demands fitness). The mother declined to commit early.

Rand Middleton
Tribune photographer/videographer. Began working in radio and at weekly newspaper in Munising, Michigan, in 1972. Started parttime at West Central Daily Tribune Sept. 1974. Fulltime news/sports beginning Feb. 1979. Married to Tribune news clerk Donna (Miller) Middleton, formerly of Kerkhoven. 2 grown children. 
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