The Ithaca football players showed off their new Nike uniforms in their season-opening win last Wednesday against Williamston, but they’re not finished with debuts.
The two-time defending Division 6 state champion Yellowjackets will join St. Johns in playing home openers at newly renovated fields tonight.
“I’d be a liar if I told you we weren’t pumped up to be playing at home,” Ithaca coach and athletic director Terry Hessbrook said following his team’s 45-0 win over the Hornets. “We start league play, and they get a chance to play in a stadium with that new renovation and all that stadium work.”
Just a year ago, the previously outdated stadium sitting along US-127 included large wooden telephone poles still holding the light fixtures.
But the stadium has been completely revamped, and it’s now palatial by small division standards.
The new house also serves as an imposing sign of just how far this program has come, as the Yellowjackets try for their 30th win in a row tonight against Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary.
Hessbrook said there wasn’t a seat to be had when Ithaca’s junior varsity opened up at home last week. Some haven’t wanted to leave.
“We’ve always felt fortunate, but now even more so to have the group of kids that we have, to have the community that we have and everybody pitching in,” he said. “We’ve got players going over after practice at 7:30, 8 o’clock at night and staying until 11 o’clock at night painting and picking up trash. You go down to the stadium at 11 o’clock at night, and there’s still 25 people there just volunteering their time because they want to be a part of it. It gives me chills just talking about it.”
St. Johns, which hosts Corunna, leveled everything, minus a rotary building, on the south end of its old facility to reorganize and reconfigure the entire complex.
The project is part of an overall bond totaling $64 million that was passed in May 2010. The bond covers upgrades to athletic facilities, which will also include a new pool and gymnasium, as well as a renovation of the high school itself.
“We started back last fall right after football season was over with,” St. Johns athletic director Chris Ervin said. “With the way the mild winter was, they actually got quite a bit of work in and we’re feeling pretty good. We’re pretty fortunate they got a jump start on things in spring, and it progressed really well.”
The football field was moved to the east and south, which required a new natural grass surface to be raised.
Other than team pictures, the new grass has kept both the football team and the marching band from using the new field until tonight.
“They’re very, very excited to get in there. It’s going to be like the first day of school for everybody,” Ervin said. “We’re really anxious to get started and know the facility. It’s just a facility where there’s been lots of careful planning involved and it’s a facility that’s going to put us in that upper echelon of stadiums in the area. It’s a facility our community can be proud of.”