Home Field Advantage

TRAVERSE CITY – It brings thousands to the downtown area in Traverse City and can fill every seat in the State Theatre. The Traverse City Film Festival? Yeah, that too, but the same can be said of Traverse City high schools' Big 3 football teams: TC West Titans, TC Central Trojans, and the TC St. Francis Gladiators. Each season it's standing room only when the Titans and TC Central Trojans meet on 14th Street to renew the cross-town rivalry. Likewise, not a seat was empty in the State Theatre when the Division 7 State Football Finals were on the big screen as St. Francis captured yet another title last November.

The community's passion for football and support for the three area high schools has never been more evident than in the renovations recently completed at Harry T. Running Stadium and Thirlby Field, where all three play. Over the last two years, nearly $2 million worth of improvements have been made to the facility, with $200,000 from capital bond funds from the Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS) and the rest a direct result of fundraising efforts and private donations.

With project management support from TCAPS, Phase 1 of the upgrades was completed in 2008 and included water and sewer, the construction of locker rooms, restrooms, concessions, retail, officials' room and an elevator on the north side of the stadium. Last summer Phase 2 was completed with restrooms, locker rooms, equipment storage and concessions on the south side. The installation of artificial turf in mid-July represents the final phase of the project.

Through a partnership with the Grand Traverse Regional Community Foundation (GTRCF), the volunteer group 4th and Goal was able to secure funds from 485 individual donors. Most notably among them are Don and Jerry Oleson. The Oleson Foundation donated $270,000 towards the first phase of renovations. However, the brothers gave a personal gift of $800,000 for new artificial turf.

"Don basically came in, sat down and said 'Here is what we would like to do," says Phil Ellis, executive director of GTRCF. "It's great to have a big gift like that because without it we probably wouldn't have had new turf for many, many years to come."

The artificial turf is a welcome change for the varsity and junior varsity teams who were left only with dirt and ankle-deep mud at midfield halfway through the season. However, the quality and consistency of the new surface provides a benefit to more than just the Trojans, Titans and Gladiators.

"These improvements have taken it from just a home stadium for our high school teams to a venue that can be used for many large events like car shows and film festivals," says Paul Mahon, director of capital improvements for the Traverse City Area Public Schools.

These options, along with many others, are being considered as TCAPS continues to develop its facility use plan. The cost savings from eliminating maintenance to the natural turf may only be slight considering new restrooms, locker rooms, concessions and the artificial turf will need upkeep. However, TCAPS believes the new features will help fund themselves.

"The nice thing about the installation (of the new turf) is that we can use the facility so much more," says Adam Bevier, assistant director of capital improvements for TCAPS. Between $30,000 and $35,000 of stadium-related revenue will be set aside annually to cover maintenance costs including those associated with replacing the playing surface again in 2022.

The renovation project is complete but the fundraising is yet unfinished. GTRCF, 4th and Goal and TCAPS are working together and getting closer to bridging the $150,000 funding gap that remains to complete payment on Phase 1. "The campaign is still open and I believe there are many people who will take the opportunity to say, 'I was a part of that,'" added Ellis.

On August 26, Traverse City Central and Forest Hills Central will be the first to officially play on the brand new turf. Two weeks later on September 10, a doubleheader will feature both the Trojans and Traverse City West. On that night the community that came together to realize this dream will come together to celebrate this accomplishment – and hopefully two victories for the hometown teams. BN