Mark Champion had a dream two years ago.
The president of the Green Bay Southwest Booster Club wanted to raise enough money to help the school install a synthetic turf field that could be used for several different sports and make things safer for student-athletes playing them.
His dream took a big step toward being realized after the Green Bay school board approved of the plan on Monday night.
Southwest will be the first of Green Bay’s four public schools to install a synthetic surface and joins Green Bay Notre Dame, West De Pere and Ashwaubenon as area schools to make the switch from grass. Notre Dame was the first to do it in 2009, and athletic director Ken Flaten said last year it was one of the “best decisions” the school has made.
The Southwest Booster Club already has raised $300,000 and has another $150,000 in commitments through advertising space and donor contributions.
The school board agreed to give Southwest a three-year interest-free loan to cover the difference, although Champion’s goal is to raise enough money for it to be paid off within two years.
Southwest will receive bids from contractors later this month. It is not known how much the total project will cost, but the estimate could be around $850,000 to $950,000.
Work on the field is expected to start at the end of May and be completed in time for the start of the football season in August.
“It was huge for the school and the kids and the district in general,” Champion said. “At one point we had to make a decision to move forward with the help of the school district, or wait another year. Waiting another year is just a lost opportunity and more games canceled and rescheduled and changed.”
Along with the installation of the turf, there also will be an upgrade to the track surface that surrounds the playing field.
The football team, the girls and boys soccer teams and the girls and boys lacrosse teams all will use the field for games, while it will allow the baseball and softball teams to have a place to practice early in the spring when inclement weather prevents it from doing so on its diamonds. The new field also can be used for physical education class.
“I can’t even put into words how excited I am,” Southwest junior running back Kieran Thomas said. “I was kind of iffy on whether we were getting it this year, but (when I found out), I was ecstatic. Playing on turf makes me feel extremely fast, and the turf is another benefit for next year’s offensive scheme.”
Champion was not sure a few years ago how realistic the project would be at Southwest. But when he contacted Bernie Dahlin of Nichols Paper Products Co., Inc. — the Southwest football field is named Dahlin Family Stadium — he gave a significant donation to help get things rolling.
“That was a huge shot in the arm for us,” Champion said. “It gave the project a little more creditability. It wasn’t just my dream anymore. It was something that was going to happen. It was just a matter of how quickly we could raise the money and get the project started.”
There is one goal, however, Champion wasn’t able to achieve. He was hoping the new turf would be blue instead of the traditional green.
“Have a blue field like Boise State,” Champion said, laughing. “But due to popular demand, there was only a small majority of us who wanted it to be blue.
“It’s going to be green just like a normal football or soccer field. There will be blue end zones and our logo on the midfield. It’s going to look really, really sharp.”