After years of hoping, the athletic program’s dream of a synthetic turf field seems to be coming true at last. Revealed this January, a challenge gift of $1,000,000 has been made by the Birdsong Corporation to be used toward the installation of a turf field and other improvements to athletic facilities.
A synthetic turf field would make a world of difference to Wesleyan’s lacrosse and field hockey teams, as grass fields do not provide the consistent playing surface that can be integral to a game’s outcome.
“For field hockey specifically, the playing surface is such an important factor,” said Assistant Field Hockey Coach Kellie Finn. “The entire game is played on the ground.”
In addition to these already less-than-ideal conditions, grass fields cannot withstand the rainy weather seen too frequently in this area.
“After snow or rain, our grass fields get completely flooded out and unusable,” Head Men’s Lacrosse Coach J.P. Stewart said. “The men’s lacrosse team has been traveling about a mile down the street to DLH to use their turf field. We’re at a clear disadvantage. It puts us way behind.”
In fact, Virginia Wesleyan College is the only co-ed school in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC) without a turf field.
“Years ago, when we first considered getting a turf field, it would have been cutting edge – but now we’re trying to catch up,” said Athletic Director Joanne Renn. “All of our competition have turf fields and we have to recruit against that.”
“I was disappointed when I first saw our stadium,” admitted junior Candace Carey, midfield on the Women’s Lacrosse team. “It’s a slight turn off for athletes when a school looks like they don’t put money into their athletics. Hopefully this is a step towards more modifications for Marlin athletics.”
The gift is ideally intended to allow for other upgrades to existing facilities, such as the baseball and softball fields, and the addition of a new track and field area as well.
“At our last campaign, we knew we needed to upgrade our athletic facilities,” said Vice President of College Advancement Mita Vail. “With a third of our student body involved in athletics, the Birdsongs recognized the need to be competitive with other schools.”
“If we’re the only school in the ODAC without a turf field, then some of the students we wish to recruit are more inclined to go where facilities are better,” George Birdsong said. “We have a long history with the school, so when this need came up, we thought it was something that required our special effort to jumpstart.”
Throughout the college’s history, the Birdsong Corporation and the family have been a tremendous part of supporting the college. The decision to focus their latest efforts toward a turf field was not only due to the teams’ drastic need for a better playing surface or their athletic recruitment, but because it serves the entire student body.
For instance, student programming, such as intramural and club sports, could be greatly improved.
“It would have a substantial effect on our ability to offer campus recreation to the students,” said Office of Recreational Sports and Outdoor Activities Supervisor Kelly Keys. “It would also likely improve student participation numbers.”
Director of Batten Center and Recreational Sports Jason Seward thinks the possibilities a new turf field would offer are endless.
“We have to fight daylight,” he said concerning the current scheduling dilemmas with outdoor club sports. “This will open up a world of flexibility for when we can play intramural sports and what sports we can play. This is a big step for us.”
This big step is all part of the college’s strategic plan to modernize and beautify Virginia Wesleyan. Other steps within the plan include the unveiling of an improved Social Science Lab in the fall and plans for a new art building, thanks to the recent Goode donation.
“We see this as necessary for the future of the college in terms of our competitiveness in attracting future students as well as giving our students the kind of facilities they deserve,” said Vail.
The versatile use of the turf field will be paired with a better view as students, guests and potential Marlins enter campus. By moving the practice fields to the very front of campus, where construction has already begun, and adding the anticipated arts building and turf field in their place, the college hopes to give a greater sense of arrival.
“I have long felt that we needed more of a focal point at Virginia Wesleyan when you pull in,” Birdsong said.
The new field will be open, heavily landscaped, with stands and possibly a storage house or press box. It will be closer to the dorms, encouraging students to attend games.
“We already have a great fan base but the turf field will make games faster which adds excitement,” said Finn.
Senior James Alvarez, midfield on the men’s lacrosse team, said, “I think it’s a great addition to the school that will benefit future student athletes by giving them the necessary tools to be productive on the field and will lead to more championships for our school.”
The Birdsongs’ contribution challenges other college supporters to raise an additional one million dollars by the end of 2015. The Board is still discussing borrowing money to start construction of the field sooner.
“Get me a shovel and I’ll start digging,” Renn exclaimed. “The quicker we can get this going, the better off we’re going to be.”