No more mud bowls at Irish Stadium

Rosemount High School's Irish Stadium stood ready for the 2020 fall season in this photo taken in August. The stadium is having a makeover, including replacing the trouble-prone natural grass field with artificial turf.

Artificial turf a welcome addition at Rosemount

Sept. 13, 2019, was the kind of day Mike Manning looks forward to as an athletic administrator.

He helped set up for a football game between two metro-area heavyweights, Rosemount and Lakeville North, before a large, enthusiastic, boisterous crowd at Irish Stadium. Lakeville North’s 20-3 victory was not the outcome the home team was looking for, but a good time was had by all – at least until the next day, when Manning got a look at the field.

It had rained heavily during the week and the weather was still damp at gametime. Manning, Rosemount’s athletic director and an assistant principal, knew what that meant. The Irish Stadium field was always vulnerable to damage when wet, and by the time the football teams were done it had turned into a quagmire. Before long, the field was shut down out of concern for athlete safety.

That was the beginning of the end for the grass field at Irish Stadium. During the summer, it received a makeover that included converting to artificial turf.

“We’re grateful to have it,” Manning said. “The last two years, I’ve moved probably 20 home events (from Irish Stadium to other locations). Some were regular-season games and some were section games where our teams earned the opportunity to play at home.

“It’s tough to tell kids they can’t play on their home field, but over the years we’ve had some bad injuries (when the field got wet).”

Rosemount already has had a couple of home soccer doubleheaders at the refurbished Irish Stadium.

“The players, parents and coaches thought it was just fantastic,” Manning said. “They loved the turf and the weather was great. The only problem was we could only allow 125 home fans and 75 visiting fans because of the COVID-19 restrictions.”

The Irish Stadium project is part of a larger School District 196 investment in athletic infrastructure. Rosemount High School installed two turf fields – one in the stadium, plus a lighted practice field – over the summer, and will replace its track starting next week. Eagan High School is doing a similar project, scheduled to be completed this fall. Apple Valley and Eastview are scheduled to have turf fields installed next summer. The combined cost of the upgrades has been estimated at $17 million to $19 million (bids for the projects at Apple Valley and Eastview haven’t been awarded yet).

Turf installation at Irish Stadium was completed a couple of days before the Aug. 17 start of fall practices for soccer. The lighted practice field, called “Field 2” is ready more than a month ahead of schedule and is likely to be used for home varsity soccer games while the track installation takes place in the stadium.

At Rosemount, the turf fields mean more than secure footing for varsity athletes. The school’s nationally acclaimed marching band will have a place to practice other than the parking lot. The fields are expected to be used heavily by Rosemount Area Athletic Association teams once the pandemic threat is over.

Students also will use them during the regular school day. “We have one less gym than the other high schools in our district,” Manning said. “This is going to be a tremendous help to our PE (physical education) department because they can use that outdoor space much later in the fall and much earlier in the spring.”

The lighted practice field will be outfitted for football, soccer and lacrosse, and Manning plans to order portable fences for softball. Rosemount recently has upgraded its softball field, but the turf field will make it possible for the Irish to play home games there in case their regular field needs more time to recover from winter.

This will give Rosemount High three turf fields, including one in the Irish Sports Dome. It also means the school joins the majority of metro-area schools that have installed at least one artificial turf field.

Managing athletics during a period of hybrid learning and keeping up on the latest COVID-19 protocol has been challenging enough, but the new turf gives Manning one less thing to worry about.

“Our superintendent, Mary Kreger, and our business manger, Mark Stotts, listened to our concerns and made this a priority,” Manning said.

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