Here's to no more mud in your eye.
Capping a process more than a year in the making, on Monday work commences to renovate Geneva High School's Burgess Field. Reconstruction will give this grassy king with its broken crown a new FieldTurf surface and will add two new track lanes to all but the existing eight-lane straightaway, about 300 meters worth, to give the Vikings a full eight-lane track plus incidentals like improved high jump and pole vault settings.
The reconstruction by general contractor Nicholas & Associates of Mt. Prospect (Midwest Track Builders will do the track addition and existing lane resurfacing), estimated by Geneva athletic director Jim Kafer at between $1 and $1.1 million dollars, is scheduled to be completed by Aug. 18, one week before the Vikings' football season opener at home against Oswego.
Burgess Field is a sentimental place, a community center of sorts. And while Vikings football coach Rob Wicinski has called the turf a home-field advantage even (maybe particularly) when wet, Kafer will certainly not miss the muddy equivalent of Jell-O wrestling that occurs after the grass field absorbs a steady rain, a problem that's affected the field through the decades.
Kafer brings up the case of Geneva's first state football playoff series, in 1975, when the Vikings needed to shift their Class 3A semifinal against Geneseo Darnall to Batavia High School due to a quagmire at Burgess.
"I liken it a little bit to when we changed the lights in one of our gyms at another school I was at," said Kafer, who arrived at Geneva 13 years ago after stints at St. Edward and Antioch. "Those lights had always been there and I guess that was something. The new lights took care of that but didn't change the character of the gym, and that's how I view this.
"The mud that was on the field three years ago was nothing that you take away as a beautiful dream. It was a nightmare."
Gale Gross will benefit in two ways with the field-and-track rehab. The Vikings head boys track coach will get a revamped track for his team (obviously so too will Peter Raak's girls team, with both having the possibility of hosting sectional meets at a facility that will be more suitable for a state series event). As an assistant football coach, Gross can be on the sidelines, or maybe even practice on the field, wearing sneakers and not galoshes.
"That field was just a mess, and you don't like to play in those conditions," said Gross, who will gladly swap a week's worth of track practice before the boys state track meet for what's to come. "And from a track aspect, we get an eight-lane track out of it. We get a track that a school of our size should have."
More than football and track will benefit. Band, lacrosse, boys and girls soccer, lacrosse, even baseball, softball and physical education classes will get good use out of the synthetic field, Kafer said.
"When you really stretch it out, (the uses) are probably limitless," said Kafer. He has been told FieldTurf should last between eight to 10 years, but older surfaces at other suburban schools still are in decent shape.
"They're finding that they've actually outlived their shelf life, so to speak," Kafer said.
Tom Finnberg, president of the Geneva High School All Sports Boosters and head of the offshoot Friends of Burgess Field, is pleased his son Nick's shelf life as a Vikings football player will not expire before he gets a chance to play on a quality surface.
After the 2010 season Tom Finnberg approached Kafer, seeking permission to start raising funds and awareness for a new field the day after quitting his job as a mortgage banker -- after his wife, Tina, threatened to "smother him with a pillow" because he was chronically depressed in an unsatisfying job.
Finnberg had hoped Nick would play linebacker on turf as a junior and not in 2012 as a senior, but the converted full-time fundraiser still sees the process as a job well done.
"I do take it that way," said Finnberg, whose efforts netted about $45,000, which joined a hugely generous $500,000 anonymous donation that enabled District 304 to kick in its stated $500,000 portion -- the ballpark cost to refurbish a grass field -- and get the project rolling.
"It was well done, and it was done by a very small group of people that put everything into it," Finnberg said.
He gave kudos to: Kim and Ron Lee, respectively the All Sports Boosters secretary and a volunteer extraordinaire ("like having an extra right arm and left arm," Finnberg said);
Boosters Vice President Dave Weede;
Geneva High senior Kevin Brouillette, an accomplished web and graphic designer who designed everything from awareness posters to the "Rebuild Burgess" website;
The late Mary Bencini, who died April 7 after 34 years as a second-grade teacher in the district, also a key figure in the Geneva Academic Foundation and the Geneva Cultural Arts Commission.
Finnberg said Bencini's database of email addresses was so large, her work in spreading the word about and soliciting donations for Burgess so diligent, that AOL registered her as a spammer and shut off her service until she called and explained her charitable task.
"This wasn't done by myself and I couldn't have done it without the help of these people," said Finnberg, who hopes to set up a camera in the press box at the 50-yard line and take one photo per day of the construction, which he'd then hand over to Geneva students to use in a video.
Kafer said no groundbreaking ceremony will be held, but there will be a dedication ceremony handled by the District 304 superintendent's office when the project is completed at the start of the 2012-13 academic year.
"It's going to be nice, no doubt about it," Gale Gross said. "In this day and age, you've got to have it with the use a field gets. Maybe I'm old-school, I like a grass field. But that's not feasible."
Walk the Walk
The St. Charles Lacrosse Club will hold its second annual Walk for Wounded Warriors, a 5-mile walk along the Fox River, beginning at 10 a.m. Sunday. The starting off point will be Gunnar Anderson Park in Geneva. For day-of registration, arrive at 9 a.m. Cost is $20 which includes a T-shirt as long as supplies last.
The Wounded Warrior Project provides programs and services that help wounded men and women of the armed forces and their families, aids their recovery process and the transition back to civilian life.
St. Charles Lacrosse Club communications director Polly Rerko said another person in the club, secretary Lynn Patrick, "wanted the boys to reach out a bit and sort of do something beyond just playing the game."
A goal was seeking contributions for the Project, and so far the boys and girls have raised a few thousand dollars, Dickson said.
The St. Charles teams will be walking, as will players from Geneva and Batavia. To join them, call for registration at (630)710-1931. On line donations may be made (it's a long one) at: support.woundedwarriorproject.org/individual-fundraising/stclacrossewalk/.
Mascot vs. Mascot
(First round: defeated Marmion Cadet)
A mounted warrior well-versed in jousting
Historically associated with chivalry and service
Nowadays, knighthood bestowed upon meritorious civilians
West Aurora Blackhawk
(First round: bye; second round: defeated Geneva Viking)
Chief Black Hawk (1767-1838) born in present-day Rock Island
Sauk leader and warrior
Fought with the British in War of 1812
Wrote an autobiography
Skilled both in hand-to-hand combat and on horseback, and utilizing knowledge of local terrain, the stealthy Blackhawk has an upper hand even when confronted with the less-mobile Knight's longer-reaching weaponry.