NORTH BRUNSWICK – From a deteriorating track to a football field in rough shape to inadequate fields forcing a handful of teams to go to parks off-campus to play “home” games, North Brunswick Township High School’s outdoor athletic facilities were in need of a massive overhaul.
A project that’s been 4-5 years in the making finally has finally come to a culmination this year, as state-of-the-art turf football and soccer fields were put in at Steve Libro Field and Stan Williston Field, replacing grass fields that were in rough shape, along with two brand new softball fields on-campus that saw its grand opening earlier this week.
“It is a good time for Raider Nation because it is a long time coming,” North Brunswick Athletics Director Lou Emanuel said. “The Board of Education, superintendent, assistant superintendent, the principal — they all understand the importance of athletics to a well-rounded education for kids. I don’t want to say that the district has ignored our athletics program for many years — I think the better way is to think we just took it for granted that we’ve always had good facilities, but over the last five years, it has really come to everyone’s realization that we were at one time the eye of Middlesex County when it comes to athletics and their facilities, but it came to the realization that ‘Uh-oh, our football field’s in tough shape. Uh-oh, our bleachers are in tough shape. Uh-oh, it’s the original scoreboard.’ “
With things starting to add up, Emanuel was charged by North Brunswick Superintendent, Dr. Brian Zychowski, to assemble a committee to prepare a document for him of what needed to be upgraded and what needed to be new to bring the school’s athletic facilities into the 21st Century.
The boys and girls lacrosse teams can now play on campus — they no longer need to shuttle over to Sabella Park.
The softball team now has its own home at the high school — they no longer need to bus down Route 130 to Community Park.
The project has benefited virtually every sport that plays outdoors and has had an overall great impact on the fan’s experience, but more importantly, the player’s.
“The crux of the issue is this – the kids get to see each other participate and then that fosters that school spirit that we so desperately need,” Emanuel said. “Keeping things on campus allows the kids to literally walk from a baseball game to a softball game, or a softball game to a lacrosse game, or go back and forth so they can their see friends and support them as they play — and that’s just for the fan.”
“For the player it means so much more – I’ve been the AD now for five years and when I would go to Community Park to go see our softball team play, if there was a dozen people there it was a lot. But now, we’ve played a few games at homes and we’ve had 40-50 people at games. One — because they just want to see the new field, but two — the kids who are on the team actually see people in the stands and actually feel like they’re part of the school, part of the sports community as opposed to an outcast.”
Emanuel faced several challenges throughout the process, but some of them were good challenges.
“To contain everyone’s enthusiasm was a challenge because when we got the facilities committee started up, everyone was chomping at the bit to get on there — what we need, we got to get it now. So what you have is when you have a problem of too much enthusiasm, that’s a good problem to have,” Emanuel said. “Then the problem that’s associated with that is lack of patience. Everybody’s geeked up and in our world of instant gratification, when things don’t happen in 24-48 hours, people start to lose their patience. But, the coaches kept the end in mind and they were focused on what’s good and what’s best for the student athlete and then what’s good and best for our teams and for our school. It was driven by the student athlete and their experience.”
Another hurdle, although it may not seem so big, was lining the turf fields for all the different sports from football to soccer to lacrosse — Emanuel recalled countless hours being spent to make sure all the dimensions were correct, even reading different NFHS rule books.
“We spent hours, literally hours, making sure the lines were correct,” Emanuel said. “Were the football lines correct? Were the soccer lines correct? Could the soccer lines be black? Could they be white? The lacrosse lines, are they right?”
All in all, the Raiders finally have 21st Century state-of-the-art facilities that were so badly needed, and more importantly, the experience of the student athlete has been enhanced.
Staff writer Mike Becker: mbecker@GannettNJ.com