Voters passed a $98 million bond to improve Kelso school facilities in February. Saturday at Schroeder Field, the electorate got its first chance to experience its fruit.

“This is one of the most amazing moments right now, really actually emotional,” Kelso Superintendent Mary Beth Tack said. “I talked with some of the former players and community members, and it’s a really emotional moment for us.”

A crowd of around 200 got its first peek at the new $1.1 million turf field as Kelso hosted its annual Blue and Gold scrimmage. It was nothing if not a spectacle for those in attendance viewing the first completed project using bond money.

“This isn’t just a great day for our football players, but this is a great day for our community,” football coach Steve Amrine said to the crowd just before the practice commenced. “A big, big thank you to everyone in our community who voted for and made this beautiful facility a dream come true.”

The two-hour long prelude to Friday’s season opener against Mark Morris included offensive, defensive, and special teams drills, but also much jubilation from administrators. Especially after the effort that led to passing the bond, which was by far the largest in Kelso school district history.

“Everybody was at the table, we gathered so many voices within the community in order to make this happen so that it really benefited all kids,” Tack said. “This is just one part of the bond passage, but really it affects every student in our school in a positive way.”

Kelso High School Principal Christine McDaniel mentioned the variety of uses for the turf, especially during late fall and early spring, such as hosting music festivals.

“It’s phenomenal,” McDaniel said. “It’s something we could never do without turf. So it really impacts so many kids.”

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It’s not just a surface for Kelso High School students, administrators said, but for even the youngest of residents.

“The other part is that playing conditions will be equal for all sports, because pop warner plays out here, Cowlitz Youth Football plays out here,” Kelso assistant principal Rob Birdsell said. “Soccer teams, track, cross country — and nobody is going to have to play on a surface that’s been degraded by mud pits. Everybody gets a quality playing surface at all times.”

When Kelso prep sports are in full swing, though, the turf is expected to make an immediate impact.

Athletic Director Len Hiatt shared a story of hearing from coaches in Southwest Washington about the one thing holding Kelso’s soccer teams back: it’s the only school in the Greater St. Helens 3A League without a turf playing field. Football and soccer playoff games must be played on turf by rule of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association

“I haven’t talked to anybody who’s not excited about it,” Hiatt said. “I met with the Downtown Quarterbacks (the school’s booster club) on Wednesday, and they played here in the 1960’s, and they’re excited. Everyone is excited.”

The turf among the most visible of several upgrades for district athletic facilities, and Ed Laulainen Stadium will also receive new lighting and concrete repairs, among other things.

While stadium upgrades and others within the district continue, Amrine will lead the Hilanders for his sixth season — though he expects this one to be much smoother than when he was a player.

“I got to play in the Kingdome and the Tacoma Dome in high school, and it was like playing on an abrasive surface. This goes with it, you don’t get burns and all the stuff that goes with that,” Amrine said. “This has a nice cushion and a nice bounce to it.”

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Sports Reporter

Jason is a journeyman sports reporter who has covered the Golden State Warriors, Oakland A's, along with a heavy emphasis on the Oakland Raiders. He comes to Cowlitz County from Oakland, Calif. and is a loving father.

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