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Seeking new ground: Mitchell picks up pursuit of artificial turf

The grass is greener at Mitchell High School's Joe Quintal Field. For the middle of summer, the natural grass surface at the stadium looks pretty good. But it's usually the brutal fall season of repeated use that takes its toll on the playing sur...

The Mitchell High School football team lines up for a punt during a game against Huron in 2015 at Joe Quintal Field. (Republic file photo)
The Mitchell High School football team lines up for a punt during a game against Huron in 2015 at Joe Quintal Field. (Republic file photo)

The grass is greener at Mitchell High School's Joe Quintal Field.

For the middle of summer, the natural grass surface at the stadium looks pretty good.

But it's usually the brutal fall season of repeated use that takes its toll on the playing surface, leading school officials to continue pressing forward on the process of adding artificial turf to the stadium in the near future.

Mitchell High School Activities Director Cory Aadland, who officially began his new role Friday, considers the project a priority. While previous activities director Geoff Gross was also supportive of the move to artificial turf, Superintendent Joe Graves said there's numerous factors that make the move more realistic now than it might have been five years ago.

"We are using that field so much," Graves said. "We're getting to the point where we can't use it anymore at certain parts of the year because it's too beat up. If we move to turf, we can get a lot more use out of that. There's a lot more schools our size that are moving to that and it's become more of an expectation. And the third thing, we will see some better prices than we would have years ago."

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The Kernels share the stadium with Dakota Wesleyan University, who have become the only Great Plains Athletic Conference school that doesn't play its football games on an artificial surface. Dordt was among the last holdouts in the conference until installing turf in 2015.

Together, Joe Quintal Field is only one of two stadiums in the state that hosts both high school and college football on a natural grass field. Mitchell is joined by Madison, where the Madison High School Bulldogs and Dakota State University Trojans share Trojan Field. South Dakota State University's Coughlin-Alumni Stadium - which was home to the Jackrabbits and Brookings High School's Bobcats - was on that list in 2015 but is being replaced by a new $65 million stadium that will replace grass with artificial turf.

"We're pretty unique to that now in South Dakota," Aadland said. "We're going to be one of the last ones to make that move and it's a good time to do that."

Change in the ESD

Alongside Brookings, the addition of artificial turf in Huron - where renovations are underway at Tiger Stadium - brings the number of Eastern South Dakota Conference football schools with home stadiums using artificial turf to six. Aberdeen Central, Harrisburg, Rapid City Central and Rapid City Stevens also play on fields with artificial turf. The other five remaining football schools in the 11-team ESD - Brandon Valley, Mitchell, Pierre, Watertown and Yankton - do not have turf.

In addition to Mitchell, Brandon Valley and Yankton are considering making the switch to turf. Brandon Valley has had artificial turf and playing surface upgrades on its five-year plan but no formal decision has been made. Yankton's school board has decided to go forward with upgrades to the town's historic stadium, Crane-Youngsworth Field, but a decision hasn't been made about which field surface will be used.

Graves said there's historically been a tradition of continuity in the Eastern South Dakota Conference where if one school offered a particular activity, all of the schools eventually follow suit.

"That's primarily been the case with activities, where if it's the norm to offer something at one school or a couple schools, all of the schools in the conference try to get on that same level."

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Aadland said it's not about getting into competition with other schools in the conference but it's only natural for MHS to want to be its best.

"That's who we compare ourselves to," he said. "Not only competitively but as a district, that's where our competition is. Beyond that, it's just a good direction for us to take on our facility and our programs to have that benefit."

The cost of artificial turf has also come down, in part because there are more manufacturers who make the artificial surface. Aadland said he's hoping to keep the project in the range of $800,000 to $900,000 and would ideally attempt to have the turf installed next summer in time for 2017-18. That cost would include tearing up the current grass, working on the soil and drainage, laying down a new base and putting down the synthetic surface.

"That's the dream but if I'm being realistic, it's hard to know exactly how soon we might be able to do the project," Aadland said."

More uses for Mitchell

Mitchell football coach Kent VanOverschelde, who has supported the move to an artificial surface, said he's in favor of making the switch.

"I strongly support field turf. It benefits our football program immensely," VanOverschelde said via email this week. "Mr. Gross shared a lot of his research previously with me and it is exciting to hear that Mr. Aadland and our district shares a vision for the future of athletic development."

When the Kernel football regular season ended with a cold, rainy contest against Huron on Oct. 22, the grass surface at Joe Quintal Field was in rough shape. But the field pulled through for the final three games of the fall season - two more Tiger home contests and a Class 11AA quarterfinal win for the Kernels over Spearfish.

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It was a heavy season of use for the site, which has been used for more than 100 years. The stadium itself dates back to 1941 and the Mitchell School District invested $2.9 million in 2010 for upgrades that included new locker rooms, goal posts, visitors' bleachers, a press box and entranceway.

A Daily Republic analysis of the 2015-16 athletic schedule, showed football was played on 15 different dates by Kernel teams at Joe Quintal Field, ranging from varsity games down to junior varsity, seventh, eighth and ninth grade. Dakota Wesleyan University played four home games, far fewer than the Tigers would normally play.

This season, DWU has six home games on an 11-game regular season slate and the Mitchell Kernels will have four home games on their nine-game schedule.

Both Aadland and Graves said they hope DWU would be able to make some contribution to the fundraising of the turf project but said no formal discussions have taken place.

Aadland said he supports the change as much as he does because it opens up many more opportunities for the school district in scheduling and hosting events.

An artificial turf surface would allow Mitchell to get back into the rotation of hosting the South Dakota State Soccer Tournament at Joe Quintal Field, which consists of four championship matches on one day. Mitchell hosted the 2014 and 2015 state championships at the Pepsi Soccer Complex but the South Dakota High School Activities Association decided in 2014 to change the state event hosting guidelines to require artificial turf facilities and a preference for stadiums over soccer complexes. The SDHSAA has cited poor weather conditions creating a muddy, sloppy field as a reason for going away from natural grass.

"I think Mitchell has shown that we're pretty good at hosting those events," he said. "It's something that fits our hotels, our restaurants and our community. Since we can't host state basketball or some of the bigger events, I think it's a great chance to focus on the events and sports we can host and keep them."

Graves said the upgrades could give Mitchell's marching band a permanent place to practice. Currently, the band has to make use of a parking lot to perfect its shows. Physical education classes could make use of the facility and the improved surface would help in some regard for track and field.

With the construction of the new grandstand and visitors bleachers, press box and new scoreboard, an upgrade in playing surface would likely close the book on improvements at Joe Quintal for a while and leave Mitchell with one of the area's best stadiums.

"That's really the final piece to it," Aadland said. "We've done a lot of good things with the stadium. From a regional standpoint, we've set ourselves up to have something really nice."

Artificial turf football fields in South Dakota

Aberdeen Central

• Swisher Field, also used by Northern State University

• Presentation College (mainly used for practice, includes bubble roof)

Brookings

• Dykhouse Stadium, which is South Dakota State University's new football stadium.

Garretson

Harrisburg

Huron

• Tiger Stadium, will be completed in time for this season.

Sioux Falls

• Kirkeby-Over Stadium (Augustana)

• McEneaney Field (O'Gorman)

• Howard Wood Field, home stadium to Lincoln, Roosevelt and Washington high schools.

• Bob Young Field (University of Sioux Falls)

Rapid City

• O'Harra Stadium, which hosts South Dakota School of Mines and Central and Stevens high school games.

• Sioux Park Stadium

Sisseton

Spearfish

• Lyle Hare Stadium, which is used by Black Hills State and Spearfish High School.

Tea

Vermillion

• DakotaDome, which uses a carpeted surface that can be rolled up and stored.

Wall

Joe Quintal Field's natural grass surface is pictured this week in Mitchell. Support remains for the school to pursue a new artificial turf surface in the future, which would prevent wear and tear during the Mitchell High School and Dakota Wesleyan University football seasons. (Eric Mayer/Republic)
Joe Quintal Field's natural grass surface is pictured this week in Mitchell. Support remains for the school to pursue a new artificial turf surface in the future, which would prevent wear and tear during the Mitchell High School and Dakota Wesleyan University football seasons. (Eric Mayer/Republic)

Related Topics: FOOTBALL
Traxler is the assistant editor and sports editor for the Mitchell Republic. He's worked for the newspaper since 2014 and has covered a wide variety of topics. He can be reached at mtraxler@mitchellrepublic.com.
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