The Brooklyn Dodgers said it best with “Wait ’til next year.” While it’s a bit early in the game to be summing up the Maroons’ season with that phrase, there’s a grain of truth in that old slogan that seems to fit the first two games under the new lights of renovated Stagg Field.
After the football’s (2–1) 36–13 dismantling by undefeated Elmhurst (3–0) to break in the new turf September 15, and then men’s soccer’s (5–3–0) cancelled matchup Tuesday night, outings at the souped-up Stagg so far have left Chicago fans with a bit to be desired. Then again, the beauty of watching and playing sports is that there’s always another game to look forward to. Bury the off days, forget the bad calls, and get ready for the next go around. With the improvements to Stagg this summer, it’s going to be much easier to keep the action coming, from varsity to the club and IM levels, thanks to donations from Bernard DelGiorno (A.B. ’54, A.B. ’55, and M.B.A. ’55).
In addition to the attention-grabbing lights, Stagg now boasts all-weather turf with football and soccer lines and a new track that rivals any facility’s.
Chicago’s upscale job, down to the grounds crew, matches the one going on in Eugene on Hayward Field, one of the most famous tracks in the country and site for next year’s Olympic trials.
“We got the best we could get,” cross-country head coach Chris Hall said. “Our University took care of us. I was really pleased to see that, that they didn’t go with the easiest bid, but really took care of us.”
The idea of giving Stagg a makeover began about five years ago with DelGiorno, athletic director Tom Weingartner, and football head coach Dick Maloney checking on the new observation deck and fitness center, other gifts from DelGiorno. When asked if there was anything else that needed touching up, Weingartner promptly answered, “Artificial turf and lights.”
Proposals for the renovation went to the trustees two years ago, and the groundbreaking ceremony took place after football’s final home stand last fall.
Open in time for the new season, the improved Stagg means a lot more than stadium lighting beaming down on a more attractive gridiron. The turf will cut back on overall maintenance without the constant need to repaint lines and water the field, and it’s hoped that the smoother surface will help prevent player injuries.
Best of all, though, it can stand up to beatings from Chicago’s weather, which will really pay off for football. Better traction and footing in rain, snow, or sleet will open up play options that take more ball handling and skill, when before the team might have had to scale back because of mud and a torn up field.
Plus, with the lights shining from 6:00 a.m. to midnight, squads will squeeze in more training time when we start getting 4:00 sunsets. Cross country, for one, plans to eventually switch over from running on grass to avoid hitting holes on dusk jogs. The track team will start joining its fellow runners on the track very soon, and will host its first meet there on March 29 before laying out the welcome mat for the UAA championship.
Beyond their practical use, it’s undeniable that playing under the lig hts brings a little something extra to the game. That’s the way most of the pros do it these days, and maybe it’s that slight sense of imitation that kicks up the intensity.
“It’s certainly exciting,” head men’s soccer coach Scott Wiercinski said. “I think from a purely cerebral perspective, I would guess that playing under the lights and at night kind of makes you feel a little bit faster.”
That’s a mental edge that soccer could use, because enjoying the new perks at Stagg doesn’t come without some fresh challenges. The Maroons play on turf when they travel, but hosting on the new pitch means consistently picking up the pace to keep up with the ball as it skips along on the slicker field. Goalkeepers especially could have trouble tracking the ball on shots and corner kicks coming in from the wrong angle and getting lost in the lights.
While the focus might go to what the upgraded Stagg means for varsity squads, the new field is a gift to all athletes on campus. One of the biggest draws for construction was the fact that round-the-clock lighting and durability of the turf means that a lot more people will get to experience the first class treatment. Club teams like ultimate frisbee and rugby are already set to play there and IM kickball gets underway in October.
“Sound mind and sound body,” said DelGiorno, who earned his varsity C in gymnastics. “I think the Romans thought of that 2,000 years ago, and it’s something that [Amos Alonzo] Stagg believed in too.”