Overjoyed in the Ozarks
Reeds Spring High School
Reeds Spring, Mo.
The Nippert Stadium site at the University of Cincinnati has been used as a playing field since 1901, making it the second oldest college football playing site in the United States behind Penn's Franklin Field. Nippert Stadium was officially completed in 1924, and nearly 100 years later, the stadium is once again making history as the home venue for the United Soccer League's newest franchise, FCC Cincinnati.
Since 2013, Nippert Stadium has featured synthetic turf from UBU Sports. But in order to accommodate its new residents with its required field markings, the University of Cincinnati replaced its existing surface with the Speed M6-M synthetic turf system, a scientifically engineered surface that features a 61-ounce monofilament fiber with mixed infill, which ensures a fast, firm and safe playing surface.
So what was to become of the previous turf system, which was still in exceptional condition? As it turns out, its unlikely future home was 600 miles away in a Southwest Missouri town called Reeds Spring.
Hall of Fame Effort
The connection between Reeds Spring and the University of Cincinnati starts and ends with one man, Pro Football Hall of Fame President David Baker. A Reeds Spring parent who works with the Hall of Fame asked Baker to speak at an event sponsored by the Reeds Spring Foundation. As part of the process, Baker came to the school, visited with student-athletes and even gave a pep talk to the football team. That parent's family would later travel to Ohio and during a social gathering, Baker learned about one of the amenities that Reeds Spring's rival school had that they didn't—a synthetic turf field.
"David said he would see what he could do to help us get turf, and sure enough, several weeks later, I was at an insurance conference when I got a call from (UBU Sports CEO) Mark Nicholls," said Steve Verheyen, director of operations, Reeds Spring Schools. "I started orchestrating the purchase of the turf on my way home. I called the superintendent, he contacted the board, and we got a verbal from the board within an hour."
The change in surface was something Reeds Spring had been looking into for quite some time. The Wolves had been playing on Bermudagrass, which goes dormant by September. As Verheyen put it, "Here in the Ozarks, we grow rocks better than we grow Bermuda."
Lacking a full- or even part-time field maintenance manager, the field was virtually unusable outside of varsity football—for example, Reeds Spring hosts the Ozark Music Festival every year, and due to the field conditions, they would have to host it in the parking lot.
"We've had discussions over the last several years about switching to turf, but we knew it would take a lot of money," said Reeds Spring Principal Dr. Isaac Sooter, who cited two specific football-related events as motivating factors.
In 2013, Reeds Spring was set to host a playoff game but had to move it to a local school district that had a turf field because their field was excessively muddy and unplayable. Frustrated with moving the game offsite, the Wolves vowed to play future home playoff games at their home field. In 2015, they got that opportunity, but an extremely sloppy surface hurt the Wolves' offense.
"That playoff game at home, the field looked atrocious," Verheyen said. "It wasn't something that instilled pride in our kids, athletes, band or visitors. And we have a beautiful stadium, but we had a trashy-looking field."
While there was a lot of momentum to move to a synthetic turf field, financially, it just didn't add up. Reeds Spring had just worked with its community on getting a $17 million bond passed for a new middle school adjacent to the high school. The district was looking at having to transport middle school kids back and forth to the old middle school field daily for practice because the alternative was building another practice field, which was a financial challenge that would have required private fundraising.
Verheyen had been looking at synthetic turf options, but with the money allocated to the new middle school, he thought it wouldn't be until the 17-18 school years, at the earliest—a sentiment echoed by Sooter. "It just seemed unobtainable so we started looking at making our grass surface better, and then this opportunity with David Baker came about," he said. "The timing was perfect."
"Without David, we never would've known it was available or considered the concept of used turf," Verheyen added.
Hope Springs Eternal
Once the financials lined up, Reeds Spring started researching the vendor, and the more Sooter and Verheyen learned, the more excited they got.
"It's nice getting a turf field, but not all turf fields are made equal," Sooter said. "To know that we were getting a top-tier professional-grade turf put our excitement level through the roof."
Reeds Spring has been busy evaluating the various ways the community can use this best-in-class surface. "There's 1,000 ways we're going to be able to utilize the surface other than just football, be it Mighty Mites, Pee-Wee leagues, community functions, school events, assemblies, flag football tournaments, end-of-the-year activities, practices, the band will be able to utilize it, P.E. classes, as well as both middle school and high school activities," Sooter said.
Outside of the immediate Reeds Spring community, Verheyen expects the new system to have a dramatic impact on those visiting teams that come to play on it. "Once these teams from around the state come play on our turf, I think they are going to see a distinct difference in what we are playing on here and what they are playing on at home," he said. "It is so much more than just a sports field, it is the start of a new chapter for the school and the city."
Sooter concluded, "We've been so excited to get it and talk about all the things we can do with it, and just elevate the programs and facilities of our district. With the quality of turf we're getting, we can say that nobody out there has anything better than us."
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