"Field of Dreams" was already taken. In St. Francis' case, a capital campaign titled "Bring it All Back Home" is more appropriate.
One year after winning the 2008 Class 5A football championship, the Spartans were reduced to hosting a playoff game against Montini at West Chicago due to rains that settled on the floodplain that is the Spartans' home field. The past three seasons' home games have been played at College of DuPage.
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The football team practices on the St. Francis field, and a couple levels of soccer will play on campus, but no varsity sports. Scott Nelson, the Spartans' 25-year coach of track and field, has never been able to host a meet on the remaining gravel encircling the field.
His boys and girls will practice on the oval when it's dry, he said. If not, it's to the parking lot or back field when there's no softball or baseball -- but he certainly can't run a track meet there. It'd be hard to find another coach who has done so much for so long with so little.
That is why, with more than $2.3 million in verbal or written pledges so far dedicated to the $3.6 million Phase 1 of the project -- synthetic turf field, new bleachers to seat 1,200 people, a new press box and a six-lane, 400-meter, all-weather track, Nelson can barely contain himself.
"Spartan blue, baby, Spartan blue," he said, laughing giddily over the phone.
"Of course it's awesome," he said. "I've got no complaints whatsoever. In fact, I'm like a kid in a candy store."
Nelson will also get long- and triple-jump pits, a pole vault pit, a high-jump apron and an area for shot put out of the deal. He echoed St. Francis principal Tom Bednar's previously stated goal of breaking ground this May. Among "a lot of us," Nelson specified Bednar and football coach and developmental officer Greg Purnell for getting this moving.
Phase II, estimated to cost $1.4 million, consists of a "gateway" building housing a new locker room, concessions, restrooms, a storage area and ticket office. A second story would contain practice areas for the Spartans wrestling, cheer and dance teams.
Big kudos must be granted Ron and Teri Kuhn, 1960s-era St. Francis graduates who donated $1 million to start the campaign. The Kuhns also donated a bundle in 1999 to fund the school's cultural arts center.
Of the outdoor athletic facility, Nelson said, "It's going to be great for everybody."
"St. Francis has an excellent gymnasium, weight room and fine arts center. What this does is help take care of our outdoor activities -- girls and boys lacrosse, girls and boys soccer, track and football," he said.
"I think our kids deserve the opportunity to have a home-field advantage, and this will enable us to get back to that. Also, our Friday night crowds have grown, and because of that we need to replace the existing bleachers. We need to put in new bleachers and a new press box that will be similar to the one at College of DuPage."
Purnell noted that more than 100 student-athletes leave campus for off-site practices in both the fall and spring athletic seasons. Between facility maintenance and transportation costs he estimated annual savings of $30,000-$35,000.
"That is a tremendous advantage for our entire school," Purnell said.
"There's been a rich history and tradition of playing football here, and a lot of our alumni love this setting here in the back of the school. It'll give our kids the opportunity to bring it back home. That's the name of our campaign. That's what it's all about."
Meanwhile, in Elmhurst ...
IC Catholic Prep -- the school known for 75 years as Immaculate Conception but rebranded as of Jan. 1 to enhance clarity of purpose -- is proceeding with renovations to its own off-campus athletic facility, Monsignor Plunkett Field.
A multiphase project that was publicly announced last fall, the initial Phase 1 is even more ambitious than initially planned, which must mean fundraising is going nicely.
The initial plan was to turf over the football field, a practice area adjacent to the field and the baseball field which also shares the plot off West Street in Elmhurst. The infield would not be turfed, but now that is the plan, said athletic director Tom Schergen. The field will be able to accommodate both softball and baseball.
An arched entrance with paver brick pathway is part of Phase 1. By early December more than $40,000 alone had been raised by the sales of the personalized bricks.
Lights were somewhere between Phase 1 and Phase 2, which is mainly new concessions and seating. Now, however, lighting is a strong possibility for the first phase.
The Diocese of Joliet has approved the construction to begin. The targeted start date is April 15 with renovations scheduled for completion in time for the 2013 fall sports season.
Peltz breaks the streak
Daily Herald All-Area Football selection John Peltz of Wheaton North is the 2012 winner of the Red Grange Award, announced by the DuPage Heritage Gallery. The award has been presented annually since 1974 to the District 200 high school football player who best demonstrates a combination of athleticism, sportsmanship and academics.
Peltz recently committed to play football at Wheaton College, where his father, Jeff, is an assistant coach, his uncle Mike Swider is the head coach and cousins Michael and Justin are on the squad.
John Peltz displayed sportsmanship within a team framework by sharing the quarterback position last season with junior Clayton Thorson. Peltz did the lion's share behind center, completing 70 percent of his passes for 1,891 yards, 19 touchdowns. He showed his athleticism rushing for 287 yards with 142 yards receiving and 5 combined touchdowns.
Peltz was named all-DuPage Valley Conference, honorable-mention Illinois High School Football Coaches Association All-State and Wheaton North's offensive MVP in his second year as a team captain. Off the field he's amassed a 4.73 grade-point average and, the Heritage Gallery states, scored a 27 on his ACT.
Peltz also snapped a Grange Award streak. After nine straight Wheaton Warrenville South honorees he became the first Falcon since Zach Ullrich and Brett Bollweg shared it in 2002.
For those keeping score at home, WW South has claimed 16 Grange Awards (Jon Beutjer and Jon Schweighardt shared the honor in 1998), Wheaton North now has 13, Wheaton Central 6 and Wheaton Warrenville 5.
Peltz will receive the trophy at a formal presentation on or around Grange's birthday June 13.
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