This is the Tigers’ turf
Game day for Northwestern football is going to be different this week — in more ways than one.
The first change is when the game will be played. Instead of the normal Friday night kickoff, the Tigers will host Salisbury on Thursday night.
The second change is to the field. Thursday’s game will be the debut of Northwestern’s new turf field.
“We’re very excited,” said Northwestern Athletic Director Jason Zimmerman. “I am certain everything will run great, but even after doing this for a number of years, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a tad bit nervous. I basically have to manage a new facility with a new layout,
“Fortunately we have great people serving our athletic department and maintenance staff so any hitches, I am very confident we will be able to handle.”
Zimmerman said that plans for the turf field had been in the works for years and there has been plenty of cooperation in making sure everyone is satisfied with the finished product.
“My coaching staffs have been with me on this endeavor every step of the way,” he said. “I received a lot of solid input from all of them. The coaches, along with our student-athletes, were my motivator to see this through.
“There were times throughout the past few years that I didn’t think this was going to become a reality for our school. My staff and my student-athletes have been absolutely awesome through all of the delays and relocation of practices/games while the construction process has been going on.”
Zimmerman said he also took advantage of several area school districts that already had turf at their facilities to get advice during the process.
“I relied heavily on Northern Lehigh, Palmerton, Lehighton and Whitehall during this process,” Zimmerman said. “They were always willing to provide me with good, sound advice based on their experiences.”
Once it became official that the turf field was going in and that it would be in place for this season’s home opener, Zimmerman knew exactly how he wanted to christen it.
“The Thursday night concept was something I always wanted to do for several reasons,” he said. “I believe it may spark a little attendance boost the first week of school. I also believe it will provide the participating teams more media coverage being one of the only shows in town.
“Another nice advantage is that it will give our football, cheerleading, and band families a chance to sneak out for a nice, long weekend with school being off Friday and Monday. Last, but maybe one of the big driving forces for (head football coach) Josh (Snyder) and I was the fact it gives us a chance to have a normal routine. Kids will go to school, do their pregame rituals and play the game. Having a game on a day that school is not in session breaks our normal routine.”
The excitement for Thursday’s game can be felt throughout the school and community according to Zimmerman. But the impact the field will have on the school district will be felt long after the game ends.
“We’re looking forward to finally getting on the field for the first time,” Zimmerman said. “After that, there won’t be much down time on that field between practices and games for our football, field hockey, boys soccer, girls soccer, cross country, cheerleading, and band programs. Add in youth foot-ball games and there isn’t much open time left in the stadium.”
The Tiger soccer teams should both benefit from playing on turf.
“It can really affect how the ball jumps and rolls,” said senior boys soccer player Riley Shafer. “We got used to a field that had a lot of holes and a lot of bad patches and it’s going to be really nice knowing that you can trust that the ball is going to do what you expect it to do.”
Northwestern boys soccer head coach Nate Hunsicker feels his team is suited for a faster playing surface.
“It’s exciting,” said Hunsicker. “With the brand of soccer that we have and the caliber of players we have, it really fits their mold and fits the style of soccer that we like to play. We have a lot of technical players and I think it might make some of those players even better.”
The football team feels the same way.
“Our biggest games last year were on turf - at Northern Lehigh against Central Catholic and at Palmerton we put up 49 points,” said quarterback Deven Bollinger. “So a lot of our big games came on turf fields and I know our skill guys are especially looking forward to playing on turf.”
And the days of playing senior night games at Parkland or anywhere outside of New Tripoli are over.
“We’re really looking forward to [the new turf field],” said field hockey player Ally Myers. “Especially since senior night can actually be here this year instead of in Allentown. A lot of us play on turf in the offseason, so we’re all looking forward to that. We’re anxious to get on the turf and play.”
All of it was made possible thanks to a partnership with Lehigh Valley Health Network.
“This project would not have been possible without the generosity of Lehigh Valley Health Network,’ said Zimmerman. “They were huge corporate sponsors of this project. We have been lucky enough to be working with LVHN’s Athletic Training Services Department since 1989. Although they have gone through a string of name changes since that time for a variety of reasons, our relationship has remained strong.
“As a result, we were able to enter into a 12-year agreement with them for our athletic training services in which cash and services provided equates to approximately $1.2 million over the life of the agreement.”