As Lycoming President James E. Douthat gave a brief speech to the small crowd that gathered in attendance at David Person Field, Lycoming coach Mike Clark, former coach Frank Girardi and Lycoming players Cody Moyer, Parker Showers and Nate Oropollo were all smiling standing to his left.
The five Warriors stood shoulder to shoulder together on the football field behind five gold and blue plated shovels.
After the short speech, they each grabbed a shovel, dug up a chunk of grass and dirt of the football field at the Shangraw Athletic Complex. As they tossed the dirt aside, they received a round of applause from those in attendance.
Following months of fundraising, speculation and planning, the Lycoming project had finally come to fruition. It was a symbolic groundbreaking ceremony on Wednesday morning that ushered in a new era of Lycoming football. For the first time in program history, the Warriors will be playing on FieldTurf.
The actual construction and field installation will begin on Monday and will take an estimated seven to eight weeks to complete. The construction will begin with the surface being torn up to make way for a perimeter draining system, the same that is in use at the lacrosse/soccer field, before the base for the turf is laid.
The Warriors join eight other schools in the Middle Atlantic Conference that will play on artificial turf. The only school that will continue playing on grass is Delaware Valley.
The project has been in the making since earlier this year. In January, Lycoming assistant coach and defensive coordinator Steve Wiser, among others, helped kick into action a plan to raise funds to get FieldTurf at Lycoming.
Lycoming has discussed artificial turf in the past on the football field, including in 1997 when they installed FieldTurf on the lacrosse/soccer field. Throughout the project, some were skeptical as to whether or not they would be able to get the funding raised in time for the FieldTurf to be installed this season, or if it would have to wait for next season given the somewhat short, 4-month timeline to get funds.
"I wasn't sure we could do it. Coach Wiser kind of said 'hey look, I'm going to figure it out. We're going to do this.' There were some times you hit some bumps in the road. Early on you got some gifts, then it stopped, but then somebody came in (with a donation)," Clark said. "When you think you're kind of maybe stumbling a little bit and you might have to make it happen for next year, all of a sudden someone would come in and give you a pretty good five-figure gift. Two-hundred fifty (thousand) became 400 thousand and 400 became 600 and ultimately, the little ones are coming in along the way and next thing you know, you're at 900 (thousand). So it's pretty cool."
Those donations came from months of talking to former Lycoming alumni and residents of the Williamsport area. Through all that, Lycoming raised the $1.1 million that was required to install the FieldTurf synthetic surface.
While it's typical of alumni to give back to their alma maters, Lycoming was humbled and glad for the support of Williamsport in being generous with donations.
"There were so many people that were so supportive of me personally and of our football program that when we did talk to these guys (for donations), it was very humbling for me when these guys stepped up and said 'yes, we want to help,'" Girardi said. "That, to me, I'm never going to forget that, these local people."
While the FieldTurf provides an artificial field of play for the football team, it also benefits other sports with an improved practice facility. The project also will provide renovations to the front entrance of the stadium and an increase in parking, however they are both currently in the planning and design phase.
"This is going to be so beneficial to the program, to the college, to the recruiting aspect, (and) I think the neighborhood and community are going to be excited about it," Wiser said. "It's going to do a lot for Lycoming College in the Williamsport area. Obviously it's going to help our practices. It became almost a necessity with the weather in central Pennsylvania and we now have a softball field, so we lost some practice field there. So this is going to be great for us."
The project also honors Girardi's coaching legacy with a statue that also will list the names of the over 325 donors who helped fund the project. The statue is set to be unveiled on October 20 during Lycoming's homecoming game.
FieldTurf is in use throughout the college and professional ranks. In the NFL, 21 of the 32 franchises have it on either their field or practice field, including the new Giant Stadium in the Meadowlands. Both the Super Bowl and NCAA?Bowl?Games have been played on FieldTurf surfaces in the past.
"I feel pretty comfortable as long as weather cooperates that we're going to not only have the best surfacebut you also get a company (LandTek) that knows what they're doing putting it in," Clark said.