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Tom Mix, Published August 23 2012

Volunteer effort pays off in getting Grovers' home field back

Fargo - As far as Scott Gorder is concerned, there is no place like a home football field on Friday evenings in the fall.

Gorder’s opinion is shared by high school football fans, players and coaches across the nation. Home games are often labeled “can’t miss” community events that have large appeal and create large amounts of anticipation.

“Friday nights under the lights is how it is supposed to be,” said Gorder, who is a 1988 graduate of Fargo Oak Grove and a former Grovers football player.

All the sentiments associated with football Fridays have been somewhat foreign of late to Gorder’s alma mater.

Oak Grove hasn’t played a game on its campus – located on the banks of the Red River – since the fall of 2008.

The Grovers’ three-year exile ends today when it hosts Kindred on its home field at 7 p.m.

Spring floods have rendered the riverfront field unplayable for several years, forcing the team to play its home games on Friday afternoons at Jake Christiansen Stadium at Concordia College.

The state of the field where the 42-year-old Gorder once played was a shell of what it had once been. A visit to the field – by then an overgrown patch of weeds – in the spring of 2010 was when Gorder and a group of Oak Grove alumni started to reclaim their turf.

“I had a friend come in for the Fargo Marathon who was an old alumnus, and we came down here and the field was all full of weeds,” said Brian Kounovsky, who is a 1986 Oak Grove graduate. “So I saw that and I called Scott (Gorder) and said, ‘Hey, this looks really bad down here. Do you think you and I could go down there and try to clean things up so people don’t think a bomb went off down here?’”

Gorder remembers the visit well.

“I went down there and we kind of just made the decision that day that this looks terrible, and if nothing else, let’s just get rid of these weeds and plant some grass,” Gorder said.

After borrowing a tractor and purchasing a healthy amount of grass seed out of his own pocket, Gorder got to work sodbusting, tilling and planting.

Former Oak Grove President Marilyn Guy inquired about Gorder’s intentions and also the price tag for the work.

Gorder said he, Kounovsky and other friends including Kyle Bakken, Mark Pierce, Dan Bueide and others were prepared to donate their time to restore the field to game-day shape.

The group’s efforts didn’t come without obstacles. Flooding kept serving as the field’s No. 1 enemy, and after several attempts at re-seeding were foiled in 2010 and 2011, Gorder’s gang vowed to give it another go last spring.

“I’m kind of amazed we stuck with it, because we almost had it ready last year, but we had that late flood and it took it out again,” said the 44-year-old Kounovsky, who has two girls at Oak Grove. “We just decided this winter to start over again and go for it.”

The dry weather and the school’s administration contribution of adding the lights and electrical work to the field ensured the Grovers would be making a homecoming this fall.

“We are looking forward to being on our home field again,” Oak Grove football head coach Bobby Bauer said. “It is just a situation where you get a true home-field advantage that you don’t get when you are at someone else’s field.

“The setting at Oak Grove is very unique compared to other high school settings in the fact that you are down by the river and there are all kinds of trees around, it is in the park and it’s a setting you don’t experience anywhere else in the Fargo-Moorhead area.”

Today will be a first for Bauer’s Grovers, whose roster includes no player that has played a game on campus.

That’s the only brand of Oak Grove football Gorder knows. His father, Darwin Gorder, was an educator and principal at the school for 45 years and said he can remember running on the field as a 5-year-old while his dad set up sprinklers and striped the field.

Fast forward 37 years, and it was the younger Gorder tending the field with the same care.

Gorder said he estimates he and Kounovsky combined for 160 hours of work on the field the last 2½ weeks. He estimates since the spring the collective efforts of himself and all the volunteers easily exceed 300-plus hours.

On Wednesday evening, Gorder and 15 other volunteers put the finishing touches on the field for the Friday night opener.

Bauer said the volunteer effort will be acknowledged during a special pregame ceremony. Gorder plans on being in the stands to enjoy the fruits of his and others Ray Kinsella-like version of “The Field of Dreams.”

“I enjoy doing it,” Gorder said. “Do I enjoy doing it in that volume in that short of time? No, but it needed to get done.

“Once Friday comes I will completely forget about being there until midnight working. It will all be worthwhile.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tom Mix at (701) 241-5562