More athletic changes coming to NorthWood

NAPPANEE — The work is almost done for football artificial turf and a new track at NorthWood High School.

“The project has started with the goal of football field access by August 1st and track completion by August 23rd,” said NorthWood High School Dean of Athletics AJ Risedorph.

Work began on the two projects on April 13th.

“Our stakeholders have been working through the plans since late fall early winter,” Risedorph said.

“Our track was in need of repair. We spent a year studying the benefits of natural grass vs. field turf. We did due diligence researching safety measures and protocols along the way. Both the track surface and turf were selected to keep safety at the forefront. We have gone with FieldTurf (company), who has done the soccer field and our Field of Dreams complex. We’ve been very pleased with their work.”

The new track will be circling around the football stadium and will be nine lanes. The old track was eight. Field events are set to go outside of the track on the east end and south of the current tennis facility.

“This will allow us to have the space available for two shot put, two discus, two high jump, two pole vault and two long jump areas,” Risedorph.

“The move of the field events will provide additional practice space for our football athletes and provide opportunities for our incredible Red Regiment (band).”

Because of the new track, NorthWood might not have to travel for big meets in the future.

“The new track will be a venue to hopefully host bigger meets like a relays event, the NLC meet or perhaps an IHSAA sectional or regional,” said Panthers boys and girls track coach Mark Mikel.

“The surface will be one of the best in the state and our field event area will provide a unique viewing experience for fans and other athletes.”

NorthWood football coach Nate Andrews felt it was an easier decision to move forward with a new track surface.

“Our school was overdue for a new track surface,” said Andrews. “When that project became a reality talks turned to resurfacing the football field as well.”

Andrews went on to talk about the advantages and disadvantages of having turf.

“From my perspective the biggest advantage of the artificial surface is being able to guarantee good footing for practices and games.

“The biggest disadvantage of the artificial surface is that as fans, coaches and players we don’t get to enjoy the elements of mud and grass stains on which our game was built.”

Andrews feels it makes sense financially to move on to turf.

“In order to keep a natural surface in safe and good looking conditions it takes an expansive budget as well as man power and maintenance.”

When it comes to safety, Andrews doesn’t see one surface being overwhelmingly more beneficial then another.

“There are many studies out there in regards to safety,” Andrews said. “We took a long look at those studies. It’s unfair to say that one surface is more safe than the other.

“If we could guarantee to keep and maintain a natural surface in immaculate conditions through the fall, spring and summer months than we could make an argument for staying with our natural surface.”

Risedorph explained how the projects were funded and that the money isn’t just going to the new turf and high school track.

“We issued a new bond as previous debt was retired,” Risedorph said. “This allowed us to complete this work, renovate our track at NorthWood Middle School and add four new classrooms at Wakarusa Elementary School without increasing our tax rate.”

Risedorph and Andrews have gotten feedback on the new projects, with Andrews hearing a mixed reaction when it comes to installing turf.

“Our players and community are pretty much split on what they prefer and I would say that many of our older alumni are sad to see the grass go,” Andrews said.

“It was important for me that we find the most proven and safest product and I think we’ve done that.”

According to Risedorph, many were given the opportunity to speak on the changes.

“We have solicited feedback for our coaching staff, board members and community members,” Risedorph said. “In addition, we have donors that have come forward that have not only provided input, but funded a multi-purpose athletic area that will double as a youth playing area during games. There is also additional projects that are under consideration that would be funded entirely by local donors, including a pavilion for families to gather during games.”

The nearly completed projects will be among the many athletic renovations that have taken place recently at NorthWood High School.

In 2018, new tennis courts were installed and last year a “Field of Dreams” complex opened, with four fully turfed fields for baseball and softball.

“Personally, I’m very excited for our student-athletes, coaches and community,” Risedorph said. “We have an amazing support system in Wa-Nee and we are blessed to have such amazing facilities that add to our student-athletes and community’s experience.”

The first home football game on turf will take place August 30 against Portage.

Engraved on the turf between the 15-yard line and goal line and west on the football stadium will be the signature of legendary NorthWood football coach Jim Andrews, who is Nate’s father. Jim passed away in a car accident in March 1992.

“I am thankful for our Superintendent and our school board for having the necessary discussions and dialogue regarding the best option for our entire school and community,” Nate said.