NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

May 1, 2014

Approval of new facilities a landmark moment

Mac Cerullo
Newburyport Daily News

---- — The moments in sports that usually resonate the most are the big wins, the great comebacks and the championship showdowns under the bright lights. But sometimes the moments that have the most lasting impact don’t take place on the diamond or the gridiron, but in the boardroom or at City Hall.

We see it in the professional leagues when the players and owners hash out the future direction of their leagues during collective bargaining agreements. We see it in college when schools and conferences debate on everything from how much food an athlete can receive to how billions of dollars of television revenue will be distributed.

Now, we’re seeing it at the local level, and this week voters in four communities got together and made a commitment to invest in local athletic facilities, a commitment that will benefit young athletes for years to come.

On Monday night, the Newburyport City Council approved spending $1.7 million to tear down the deteriorating North stands at War Memorial Stadium to make room for a brand-new, multi-purpose turf field at the high school that can be used for soccer, lacrosse and field hockey, in addition to football.

Meanwhile, about 10 miles upriver, the voters comprising Merrimac, West Newbury and Groveland’s Town Meetings Monday approved plans for a new $2.6 million athletic complex for Pentucket Regional High School, which will encompass a new eight-lane track with a grass infield, six tennis courts, fields for softball, field hockey and a separate practice field.

If all goes according to plan, Pentucket’s new field hockey field, track and tennis courts should be finished by the summer and ready to use by the start of the upcoming school year. The other two fields at Pentucket would be finished by September of 2015.

Work on Newburyport’s new turf field is reportedly going to begin by the end of the summer, meaning it would likely be ready for use by the start of the 2015 football season as well.

For those who have been pushing for investment into the schools’ athletic facilities, these votes represent the culmination of years of work and signify a victory that will carry far more weight than any championship banner could.

No longer will the Pentucket track team have to go an entire season without hosting a home meet. No longer will the Newburyport field hockey team have to play its games in Amesbury. No longer will all of Newburyport’s spring teams have to spend all of March practicing indoors because the grass fields are still saturated with the melting snow.

Newburyport High School athletic director Bob Clarke made a point to add that the new field won’t just help the school’s athletic programs, but the physical education department and youth leagues as well.

Similarly, Pentucket athletic director Dan Thornton said the school’s new track and tennis courts will be open to the public, meaning anyone in town who wants to go for a run or pick up a racquet will have the opportunity to use the facilities as well.

These projects will be expensive, and in a time when budgets are tight and sacrifices have to be made, it would be easy to argue that the money would be better spent elsewhere. But consider all the good that sports do for our children — and then take one look at War Memorial Stadium — and it’s clear that these investments are worth making.