Getting a good foothold on an upcoming season is difficult when your student-athletes are having difficulty even getting their footing.
From the dry heat of the late summer baking the practice fields hard and the snow and rain of late fall and early spring turning them into mud bogs, it was becoming increasingly difficult for Culver Academies football and lacrosse teams to prepare.
But thanks to 46 individuals and families (see below) coming together to finance improvements to Oliver Field and the Mendelson Track, Culver’s lacrosse, football, and track teams have a solid foundation to start their seasons.
“Turf has created a truer practice and game surface,” football Coach Andy Dorrel said. “Our ability to practice and play in prime conditions, regardless of the elements, is proving to be a significant asset.”
That asset already paid dividends for the Eagles in the form of a sectional championship in the first season of use.
“We believe the turf provides us with an advantage over our opponents as we tend to have undersized players but possess imposing team speed,” he added. “The opportunity to practice and play on a field that is precisely lined is helpful as we are able to use the field sideline to sideline and not have to move around to protect one area over another. If we were on a grass field this would not be the case. We actually have more useable space on the turf field.”
For the CMA lacrosse teams, practicing and playing on field turf simply puts them on the level of their competition.
“The only other team we saw all year that played on grass was McDonogh,” Prep lacrosse coach Jon Posner explained. “The style of fast-break offense we play is best suited for turf.”
CGA lacrosse coach Debi Trau added, “All of the other top teams in the state play and practice on turf. Less than 10 percent of our competitors play on grass.”
It also extends the pre-season – even when the snow flies.
“It’s huge. It’s invaluable to us,” Posner said of being able to practice outdoors early in the year. “Especially being in the Midwest and the spring weather. We can have a decent practice every day. There is no more practicing on a parking lot or indoors.”
With the grass fields unplayable until after spring break, Trau said the CGA lacrosse teams were at a disadvantage. “Our opponents have access to full turf fields in early February for preseason practice.”
It also gives all the lacrosse teams the opportunity to play games earlier in the season. Last spring, CMA hosted a scrimmage and a game before taking off on its spring break trip, something that never occurred before.
And, while CGA lacrosse still plays its games on grass, being able to practice on turf allows the girls to experience the differences between two surfaces, Trau said. “(Turf) speeds up the game and provides a true bounce on shots. Ground balls behave very differently on the two surfaces. Access to turf in the early going should provide our girls with a distinct competitive advantage.”
For the track and field teams, the surface on the Mendelson Track “provides a smooth and fast surface to enhance training and racing,” coach Mike Chastain said. “The inside-of-the-track zones are now completely surfaced with the synthetic material and provide a nice surface for the long jump, high jump, and pole vault. The approach areas are significantly improved from the old surface.
“This area also provides a good training surface for running drills, plyometric jump drills, and field event warm up drills,” he added. “We enjoy having a quality surface to improve the daily training of the track and field team as well as having a good facility to host meets.”
And while the turf field and track are the highlights, a new grass practice field behind the Oliver Field home bleachers allows the football and lacrosse teams to practice on different surfaces. It also eases scheduling conflicts for the three men’s teams during lacrosse season.
The facilities don’t set idle during the summer. Oliver Field and the Mendelson Track receive heavy use during the six-week session of Culver Summer Schools and Camps. And for the past two years the University of Notre Dame football team has spent its first five days of pre-season camp at Culver. The Irish men’s lacrosse team has also used Oliver Field during its weekend visits to campus.
Oliver Field/Mendelson Track Donors
William “Tex” Moncrief ’37
Jim ’70 & Sue Gault
Herbert A. Mendelson III Family
Sam ’47 & Sally Butler
Hal & Debbie Ecksten
Craig & Tanya Harm
Linda Fites Reed ’81 & Don Fites
Mike & Jan Wilcox
John R. “Doc” Farrall Family
Rick ’70 & Patty Jennings
Art Kurtz ’49
Wes ’76 & Paula Brumback
Jace ’76 & Laurie Hassett
Tom ’80 & Ann O’Neill
Dillon ’87 & Cara Dalton
Don ’52 & Meredith Baldwin
Bob ’52 & Ann Bretscher
Doug ’68 & Sharon Scholz
Mike ’68 & Andrea Scholz
John ’75 & Terrie Bollman
Jim ’52 & Toots Henderson
John & Fletcher Preuninger
Pete & Dawn Irving
Pat O’Daniel N ’54
Franz ’80 & Stacey Morsches
Jamie ’64 & Deby Fellowes
Ed & Susie Curtis
Peter ’57 & Paula Fasseas
Bud ’71 & Patty Hornbeck
Roscoe ’70 & Deborah Howard
David Stinnett ’75
Kevin & Suzanne Vaughan
John & Gwen Gildea
Kelly Cares Foundation (Brian & Paqui Kelly)
Rich W ’78 & Juliann Heise
Mike & Sue McCloskey
Robie ’74 & Fallon Vaughn
John ’70 & Susan Grant
Michael & Kelly Hart
Hank & Marsha Bilsland
John & Louise Dorenbusch
Jerry & Nancy Hazlewood