By Rick Palsgrove, Columbus Messenger
Groveport Madison Schools Assistant Superintendent John Hurd said the new synthetic turf at Le’Veon Bell Field at Cruiser Stadium is about more than being a modern athletic field. It is a symbol of the area’s sense of community.
“Earlier today,” said Hurd prior to the ceremonies dedicating the new field at Groveport Madison High School on Aug. 25, “I saw a man sitting in the stands looking at the new field who said he had lived in the area many years. I offered to take him down for a closer look at the field, but he said he just wanted to sit there and look at the field while it was quiet and before the crowd arrived. He said, ‘This is one of the nicest things I’ve seen here in 30 years.’”
Ed Dildine, a 1989 Groveport Madison graduate who played football for the Cruisers said, “I’ve gotten emotional three times in my life when I’ve walked out onto this field – when I played here, later when we had a fire department football event here, and today. I never thought I’d see this. It’s a great day for the Groveport Madison football team and the community.”
Le’Veon Bell – a 2010 Groveport Madison graduate, former Cruiser standout running back, and now a star with the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers – donated $750,000 to pay for the new synthetic turf field. Bell was present for the dedication ceremonies for the new field, which now bears his name, that were held Aug. 25 prior to the Cruisers’ varsity football opener against Westerville North.
Bell cut the ribbon opening the field and told crowd, “I wanted to give back to my community. I made a lot of plays here and have great memories in this stadium and to see my name on the field means everything in the world to me.”
Groveport Madison Schools Superintendent Bruce Hoover said Bell’s gift is a symbol of Bell’s and his family’s love and generosity for the community.
“It represents the power of strong, trusting relationships between our students and staff,” said Hoover. “It also demonstrates the power and connection between our schools and our alumni and what it means to be a Cruiser.”
Hoover said the new synthetic turf field not only benefits the athletic programs. It also can be used by the marching band, youth programs, and gives the school the ability to host regional and state competitions and events that will provide a positive financial impact for the athletic boosters and local businesses.
Hurd estimated earlier this summer that hosting tournaments, playoffs, and other events could bring in anywhere from $20,000 to $50,000 per year to the school district.
Groveport Madison Athletic Director Steve Petros said, “We now have the best field and the nicest scoreboard (which was obtained by receiving financial donations from area businesses) in Central Ohio.”
Petros said the Motz Group, which installed the turf, worked long hours this summer to ensure the field was installed in time for the opening game on Aug. 25.
Added Hurd, “We made it! A lot of people did a lot of work to get this done in time.”
Earlier this summer, Hurd said the field should have a 12 to 15 year life span, but that it can refurbished at that time for many more years of extended use. He said the field requires little maintenance.
Cruiser Stadium first opened in the fall of 1968 and it looked a lot different in its early years compared to today. It always had a natural grass field up until Bell’s donation of the new synthetic turf. The running track that now surrounds the playing field was not there originally and was added to the stadium much later when the stadium and bleachers were renovated. The visitors bleachers were originally small, portable wooden bleachers and the first concession stand was a small, white wagon. The stadium was surrounded back then by wide open farm fields. Many times when kickers kicked an extra point at the north end zone the ball would go over the fence and disappear into a nearby cornfield.
Dildine said there’s no comparison between the new synthetic turf and the old grass field in the stadium he played on in his days as a Cruiser football player in the late 1980s, a team that went to the playoffs two years and went 25-5 in three years.
“Often back then there wasn’t much grass,” said Dildine. “This new field won’t have the mud and the ruts. The new surface is fast and will reduce injuries.”
Marveling at the new scoreboard, Dildine said this modern digital scoreboard replaced the one that was brand new in the late 1980s.
“This stadium is now the crown jewel of Central Ohio,” said Dildine.
Petros said all this was possible because of the sense of community pride in the area.
“I love seeing the community come together like this,” said Petros. “Once a Cruiser, always a Cruiser.”