WILLMAR - The Willmar School District hired a helicopter Wednesday in an effort to reduce the ground moisture on Hodapp Field in order to improve field conditions before the regular-season finale game Wednesday night.
The Cardinals played St. Cloud Tech Wednesday for Senior Night.
Willmar High School Athletics Director Ryan Blahosky announced the decision in a news release Wednesday.
“(Hodapp Field) was completely torn up and essentially destroyed in the middle one-third by the (Ridgewater College) game (played partly in rain) on Saturday. The next three days of rain only compounded the issue and brought the playability of the field into question,” said Blahosky.
The options facing the school district were to play the home game at Hodapp Field and make the field as playable as possible or move the game to a neutral site (in Morris) to be played on the artificial surface there.
The school district contacted multiple third-party resources, including turf grass specialists and medical sources, to review all options.
“At the end of the day, we made a decision based on if our field was fit to play on and could we help that along. We are confident we are taking steps to give the kids the best possible conditions to play using the resources we have available to us,” Blahosky said.
One turf grass specialist suggested that having a helicopter hover over the field for two to three hours would dramatically increase the amount of drying that could be accomplished.
The district contacted Newberg Sky Spray at the Hector Airport to contact an available helicopter. Owner Ed Newberg flew his 2005 Robinson Rave I to Willmar.
Newberg began helicopter-blow drying Hodapp Field at about 1:30 p.m. under sunny skies. Blahosky flew with Newberg for the first 70 minutes with the helicopter hovering and staying 20 to 30 feet above the field, primarily between the 40-yard lines and near the center of the field.
“We just couldn’t justify the total negative cost to rent a facility, move all our workers, lose gate and concessions and take away the senior night experience, plus asking all of our fans, parents and students to travel tonight when we could play at home,” Blahosky said.
The estimated cost of moving the game exceeded $5,000, including lost revenues and additional costs, according to Blahosky. The helicopter’s estimate cost was up to $1,500.
The school district is reaching out to outside sources to help cover the cost of the helicopter expense.
Around 18 to 24 football games are played each fall on Hodapp Field. The freshmen and middle school games were moved to other locations this week.