Field of streams poses problem for St. Francis

  • An April 29 photo taken by drone shows flooding on the field at St. Francis' Kuhn Memorial Stadium in Wheaton. Deemed unsafe for competition in late 2018, the field was unavailable for spring sports due to continued flooding that postponed efforts to correct the problem.

    An April 29 photo taken by drone shows flooding on the field at St. Francis' Kuhn Memorial Stadium in Wheaton. Deemed unsafe for competition in late 2018, the field was unavailable for spring sports due to continued flooding that postponed efforts to correct the problem. Photo courtesy of Todd Howard

Updated 6/6/2019 12:31 PM

Nope, you can't fool Mother Nature.

In 2013 St. Francis dedicated Kuhn Memorial Stadium, a glorious facility including a new concessions building, grandstand and press box, the Scott Nelson Track and a gleaming turf field where everything from Spartans football to physical education classes could be held.


Nothing was held on the field this spring, however, due to safety concerns first identified in late 2018 and since exacerbated by weather events. It's a cumulative effect of location, weather and surrounding features.

In late March an update by the school offered hope that a new field might be ready to host athletic summer camps starting June 1. Then came the second-wettest spring on record in Chicago, according to the National Weather Service. Things were put on hold.

Despite the best efforts of the St. Francis board and its buildings and grounds committee, a consulting engineering firm, turf experts and the city, county and state government entities involved, plus the Army Corps of Engineers, that's where it remains.

"Obviously, this impacts the entire school community and it's nobody's idea of anything less than an ideal situation," said St. Francis president Betsy Ackerson, who couldn't have envisioned this problem when she took her position at the Wheaton school in July 2018.

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Landlocked by a residential development to the east, the Belleau Woods Forest Preserve to the west, tennis courts and the school to the north and Winfield Creek to the south, the field was located on a floodway -- but everyone knew that.

That's why below the field surface itself, below the substrate of rubber pellets and sand, is a drainage basin 2 feet deep to handle floodwater and send it back into Winfield Creek, Ackerson explained.

"What has happened is that our infill has been infiltrated with silt from the overflow of Winfield Creek," she said. " ... The accumulation of this sediment in the infill has prohibited the water from draining into the drainage basin that is underneath the turf."

Also, with each flooding -- it occurs with nearly every good rain -- some of the infill loosens and rinses away. The result is a compacted bed of mud and pellets, thus the safety concerns on top of any contamination from the creek overflow.


Ongoing meetings with the engineering firm aim to produce information St. Francis' board can use to set a plan in motion.

"In the next few weeks we hope to have some kind of action," Ackerson said.

Meanwhile, she's been heartened by the understanding of coaches, athletes and administrators, home and away. Also by the generosity of the Wheaton Park District, which provided facilities for some of St. Francis' outdoor spring sports and summer camps.

St. Francis is in conversation with places like Wheaton College, College of DuPage, North Central College and Benedictine University should the field be unusable this fall.

"People are very understanding of our conundrum and are doing what they can in our time of need," Ackerson said. "I think it's been a beautiful representation of the qualities of the community that matter most."

Acing metrics

Lake Park freshman Abby Raymond crammed a lot of final exams into the last days of May. A different test came a couple days ago -- overseas.

Raymond competed Monday at the International Weightlifting Federation's Junior World Championships in Fiji. Just 15, she placed ninth in her 59-kilogram weight class at a combined 174k (383.6 pounds) in snatch and clean-and-jerk.

Competing in a class normally comprised of 18- to 20-year-olds, she's the youngest girl to have ever made the United States Junior Team, she said, and was the youngest of her group in Fiji.

"In the grand scheme of things I'm training for 2024 (Olympics)," said Raymond, who won't turn 16 until Aug. 25.

(Fun time zone fact: According to her itinerary, on Tuesday she was to fly out of Fiji at 11 p.m. there, and arrive in Chicago at 9 p.m. Hopefully, "Star Trek" fans, she obeyed the Prime Directive or we could all be in trouble.)

We wrote about Raymond on Feb. 20 and our Katlyn Smith profiled her in 2016. We didn't reach Raymond following the competition but did speak with her before she left on May 29 (and got there May 31).

In addition to thanking all the people and businesses who kicked in cash for the $4,000 trip, she said she'd been polishing techniques to enhance her power and control of the weight. It paid off in the best overall total of her five IWF competitions including the Youth World Championships March 11 in Las Vegas.

She wasn't expecting a high finish, mainly using Fiji for experience.

"I want to hit all of my lifts and put myself hopefully in the top 15 to top 10," she said.

Goal achieved. Still, not even an international athlete can escape her math final.

"I'll have to take that one when I get back," Raymond said, "so that kind of stinks."

Movers and shakers

Glenbard South graduate Bella Bauman, an incoming junior beach volleyball player at Grand Canyon University, qualified with college teammate Teagan DeFalco to play in the main draw at the FIVB Under-21 World Championships on June 18-23 in Udonthani, Thailand.

Recently graduated Kendrick Tchoua of Benet and Tom Welch of Naperville North are on the North roster for the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Class 3A-4A All-Star Game this Saturday at Pontiac High School.

Incidentally, to support its goal to create a Basketball Museum of Illinois, the IBCA golf outing will be held Aug. 2 at Klein Creek in Winfield. All levels of sponsorships are available. For information call (847) 224-7200 or email

On May 25 Seth Klein-Collins helped Naperville Central win the Class 3A 3,200-meter relay at the boys state track meet in Charleston. That same day he also won a $2,000 scholarship by the Illinois Track and Cross Country Coaches Association. Also getting that good news was Glenbard West star distance runner Rory Cavan, a Duke commit.

Fenton graduate Kyle Cacioppo, a three-year starting quarterback for the Bison, and Addison Trail linebacker J.T. Daniels are headed to the 45th Illinois High School Shrine Game, June 15 at Illinois Wesleyan.

Addison Trail's male athlete of the year, Daniels played football, basketball and baseball all four years in high school.

"He's one of my all-time favorites to coach because he just never gave up," said Blazers football coach Paul Parpet Jr.

Holy Kow

We've written about Scott Kowalczyk before, the assistant coach for the Naperville Diamonds 16-Under College Exposure softball team who for years had been through the wringer with non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

In May, Diamonds coach Bill Kugelberg reported that while Kowalczyk was cancer-free, doctors were suggesting a second bone marrow transplant after the first one didn't quite mesh.

"Then, almost out of nowhere, his blood type changed to the same type as his donor," Kugelberg said.

For the first time in nearly a year, "Coach Kow" will be in the first-base coaching box Friday at the Queen of Diamonds Tournament at Frontier Park in Naperville, near Neuqua Valley.

"It's going to be an emotional scene for a lot of people, myself included, and I know the girls can't wait to see him back there," Kugelberg said.

So wonderful. Have a great summer.


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