By Greg Gielczyk
When the Kent City football team hosted Newaygo to kick off the 2021 season, there was more than the normal excitement for the start of a new gridiron campaign. They were playing on their new artificial surface for the first time.
The field renovation was completed in June and the track was finished by Labor Day. The Eagles couldn’t wait to try out the new digs against the Lions.
Kent City made its debut on the new field a success with a dramatic 20-19 comeback victory after trailing 19-0 at the half. That made opening night complete.
Kent City came storming back in the second half and thrilled its fans with an electrifying comeback win in their newly upgraded stadium.
Miscues cost the Eagles in the first half as they turned the ball over five times in the first 24 minutes. Newaygo capitalized, scoring two defensive touchdowns – scooping up a fumble and running it back for a touchdown and also getting a pick six. Looked like opening night would be spoiled by the visiting Lions.
But the Eagles’defense was solid the entire game and the Eagles’ offense was proficient when it wasnt efficient, amassing 434 yards of total offense.
Newaygo head football coach Mike Allison came away marveling over Kent City’s new facilities.
Kent City head football coach Bill Crane reported that after the game Allison, who coached previously at Alma College, before taking the job at Newaygo, told him it was “college level.”
A $22 million dollar bond proposal was passed by the voters in the fall of 2019, making possible several upgrades, including installing a synthetic surface at Ward Memorial Field.
“The project started because we wanted a facility that could serve more of the students and student-athletes at Kent City,” athletic director Jason Vogel said. “In addition to football (all levels), we play soccer on the field and host several big track meets each year.
“We also wanted a space that our marching band could use for practice and competitions. Once that decision was made, we went to the voters in November of 2018 and they approved the bond proposal that included the upgrades to our stadium, as well as many other upgrades at our schools.”
Vogel considers the upgraded facility a “game changer” for the community.
He added that the stadium is bustling with activity from the time school is in session until the sun sets … and often beyond.
But, it’s been a process that includes more than the football stadium and began a year ago. It became a reality through hard word and dedication of not only the school’s administration, but the community.
“The stadium renovations were part of our second-year projects,” head football coach Bill Crane said. Crane also is the assistant superintendent for business and administrative services at the school.
“We will finish up work on the other projects next summer. The stadium renovations were a small part of the total. We have also air conditioning at the elementary school, added a much-needed multi-purpose room at the elementary school, replaced a playground, redone every single parking lot in the district and added new secure entrances to each building.”
Crane added that plans for next year include remodeling the auditorium, computer labs, the art room, the band room and the science labs at the high school.
AstroTurf laid down the synthetic surface, at a cost of about $700,000. Stadium renovations also included building an addition to the press box, as well as upgrading the bleachers and putting in a new, nine-lane track. A new scoreboard also was erected in the south end zone.
But perhaps the major change brought about by the renovations in football is the ability to practice on the game field. In the past varsity, junior varsity and middle school teams had to use the grass practice field.
“No matter how hard we tried to move to different spots on the field, we would have plenty of mud/dirt spots by the third game. We have had days (with the new field) when it rained in the morning and the field is dry by the time we start practice,” said Crane.
“Everyone in our program loves the turf. It has been a point of excitement and enthusiasm for our players. They love the new set up. When we are able to practice on the turf, we can turn on the stadium speakers and play music. It might sound a little different, but it is those extra things that the kids just love.”
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