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Chris Murphy, Published December 31 2013

Moorhead stadium upgrade benefits more than just football

Moorhead - Moorhead athletic director Dean Haugo looked out on the field from the press box at Jim Gotta Stadium during a Spuds varsity soccer game in September and sighed.

“I really wish we could get soccer games here,” Haugo said.

Playing at Horizon Middle School fields for over a decade, that Sept. 19 game was the first time in program history the girls soccer team got to play on the stadium field since it opened in 2000. Haugo wasn’t the only one wishing they could stay.

“Horizon just never felt like home,” Moorhead girls soccer coach Nicole Wiesner said. “Just the ambience, the atmosphere, was so much better than at Horizon. It just brought so much more to the game for the girls. They were so much more excited for that game than any other game all year, counting the playoffs.”

There’s no place like home, and Moorhead will be making Jim Gotta Stadium feel like it in 2014 for more athletic programs. Approximately $1.5 million will be put into Jim Gotta Stadium to convert the field to turf and put in a new track, which Haugo hopes to be ready by early September.

Haugo was adamant that this money would not be spent nor would four months be dedicated toward the construction for just four home varsity football games next season.

“Rather than just being used by 85 football players, the field will now be used by a student body of 1,300,” Haugo said. “Horizon, those two fields, will go from being used by 80 soccer players to potentially 1,100 or 1,200 kids. A lot of people will think we just put in a new varsity football field. That’s part of it, but the big part of it is we’ve now made our facilities useful for the entire student body.”

According to Haugo, the field will be used for everything from physical education classes to band practice to even getting baseball and softball teams a place to take fly balls before the grass is ready in the spring.

The conversation all began with looking at the track. After a decision was made that the track was beyond repair and required a complete turnaround, eyes began wandering toward the field.

“Our track was at the point where we couldn’t host meets,” Haugo said. “We could use it for practice, but, even for that, it was beat up and wore out where repairing it didn’t make sense. That allowed us to look at our overall facilities. The more we talked about hosting soccer and football at the high school, the question of turf became a very logical part of the conversation.”

Not only will there be a new track, but the long jump pit and shot put area will be put in a more visible place in order for Moorhead to host meets rather than have meets at Concordia College.

“I think it’s going to be huge for the city,” Moorhead boys track and field coach Michael Thompson said. “While Concordia is a part of the community, it’s nothing like being able to do it at your home stadium and having parents being able to come to the school and the staff being able step out there and watch as well. It’s something that benefits everybody. It’s a way to put a spotlight on some of the smaller sports that aren’t football.”

Another aspect that came into play was opening the Horizon Middle School fields to Horizon Middle School.

“Another driving factor, a big driving factor, is our numbers in our district are growing,” Haugo said. “By adding the turf, now soccer will spend its time at the high school, which opens up those other fields at Horizon for physical education classes, junior high football, sub-varsity soccer and, if we need to, some soccer practices over there. By shifting one sport away from Horizon over to the high school, we have opened up all of our fields to complete inclusion.”

Moorhead football coach Kevin Feeney couldn’t help but smile as he looked at the construction plan for the football field prior to the holidays. He was like a kid opening a Christmas present.

“It’s going to make the younger kids excited about playing on this field,” Feeney said. “Anytime you get more kids out playing the game of football, the better. Three years ago our kids didn’t play on turf at all in a season. We used to go to camps to try to get these kids on turf in case we made it to the Metrodome or section finals. Now, we’re looking at one game not on turf next season. That’s where the game is headed.”

According to Haugo, as soon as the snow clears, construction will begin. When the snow will clear is another question.

“If it’s not ready, which, in Minnesota with the weather, that’s certainly a possibility, our soccer teams will continue to play at Horizon,” Haugo said. “Football, our first home game is early September. We will reach out to the local institutions in town to see if we could use their facilities.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Chris Murphy at (701) 241-5548