Bellarmine Prep is finally joining the turf field bandwagon around the South Sound.
Athletic Director Ed Ploof thought of the sentimental value in that — to be at one of the last schools in the region with a natural grass playing field.
“But it’s a lot easier to be sentimental in September when it’s nice and sunny and warm and people are enjoying it,” Ploof said. “The end of October and November, there’s not a lot of sentiment sometimes. It got to be pretty disastrous.”
Tacoma’s private Jesuit school held a ground-breaking Monday to announce $3.1 million in upgrades, including a synthetic turf playing surface, visitors bleachers and wider dimensions for its Memorial Field, due for completion by the fall.
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A backhoe ripped out the goalpost nearest to the school early Monday to signify the start of construction.
Bellarmine received a $2 million pledge from the Names Family Foundation, which is the largest capital improvement donation in the school’s 89-year history, said Bellarmine President Robert Modarelli. That will help pay for upgrades to the school’s Names Gymnasium, which are scheduled for completion for summer 2018.
“It’s going to be a big deal for us,” said Tom Bordeaux, the Bellarmine booster club’s president. “Not only for sports, but now you can expand PE classes coming out here, or if someone in the community wants to come out and use our field, they can. It’s going to be a great community asset.”
Bellarmine’s booster club is providing $400,000.
No other school in the nine-member 4A South Puget Sound League — it includes Curtis, Graham-Kapowsin, Olympia, three Puyallup schools, Sumner and South Kitsap — plays on a grass surface. Bellarmine Prep was one of five high schools of more than 60 in the South Sound region that didn’t play on a turf football field — alongside Charles Wright, Eatonville, Shelton and Yelm. Bordeaux said this switch had been a discussion the past 10 years.
So no more soggy, soaked mud pit when the weather turns.
And no more soccer having to play in the gymnasium or at a the Washington Premier facility in Puyallup. No more lacrosse having to play at Foss High School.
“Foss has been great to us, and the Tacoma schools in large part back into the ’70s have been awesome and very generous with their fields,” Ploof said. “They’ve bailed us out on more than one occasion to give us a place to practice.”
Memorial Field was built in 1945, when Bellarmine Prep was an all-boys school with 300 students and five sports.
Now it’s a coed school with 920 students who participate in 19 sports, and more than half its student population is competing in a spring sport, Ploof said. So it’s field takes a beating.
“When we built this field, we just played four or five football games on it and that was it,” Ploof said. “Now we got both genders of soccer, both genders of lacrosse — there’s hundreds of athletes that need to play and practice on this field. The durability and ability to practice outweighed the sentimental value.”
Bellarmine bought its turf surface from AstroTurf and contracted Tucci & Sons for the project, which will include matching the visiting-side bleachers with the look and feel of the home-side bleachers that were installed five years ago.
Memorial Field was dedicated in 1945 in honor of 26 Bellarmine graduates who died in World War II, and has since recognized all Bellarmine graduates who have died in war.
The school sits on a hill on Washington Street, giving the stadium a view of Mount Rainier. And the field doesn’t have a running track around it, which seats fans closer to the playing field.
It became the first grass field at a Tacoma high school when it was built, fully funded by what became the Bellarmine booster club. Stadium and Wilson play their football games on the turf surface at Stadium Bowl, Lincoln and Foss play on the turf surface at Lincoln Bowl, and Mount Tahoma has its own stadium with a turf field.
“We’ve talked about this for years, but more seriously the past couple of years,” Ploof said. “It’s just a quality surface. And it’s great for parents who will know when to pick their kids up and where, it will be tremendously beneficial for our preparation and, just as important, it will give the kids some sanity in their schedules and when they can practice and play.”
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677