Wildcat Stadium facelift almost complete

Upgrades to Wildcat Stadium at Eagan High School include new artificial turf and a scoreboard with video capability. Money for the scoreboard was raised through donations.

Field expected to be ready for soccer shortly

Fans of Eagan High School athletics soon will get to watch them at a refurbished Wildcat Stadium.

When School District 196 approved installing artificial turf fields at Eagan, Apple Valley, Eastview and Rosemount high schools in April, it also provided an opportunity for Eagan to give its stadium a facelift.

Asked what’s left from the original stadium that opened in 1989, athletic director Sandra Setter Larsen said with a chuckle, “the land?”

Not everything will be new; the existing stadium lights will remain, for example. But it will be difficult not to notice the changes, starting with a field that doesn’t turn into a soupy, muddy mess by mid-October. There’s also will be a new track and pressbox. Footings for the bleachers were replaced. There’s a new scoreboard with video capability, paid for through local donations.

Wildcat teams have yet to play a home game at their new stadium, but that should happen this fall once work is completed on the track. The next scheduled home varsity event is a boys-girls varsity soccer doubleheader against Farmington on Tuesday, Sept. 15, although Setter Larsen said it’s not yet certain those games can be played at Wildcat Stadium. Eagan’s first few home soccer games have been played at Eastview High School.

It’s been a quiet last few months competitively for high school athletics because of the COVID-19 outbreak, but it’s been a busy time for infrastructure. Eagan and Rosemount had artificial turf installed in their stadiums. Each school also will get a lighted practice field, also with turf. Apple Valley and Eastview are scheduled for the same upgrades next summer. Meanwhile, South Suburban Conference high schools Burnsville, Farmington and Lakeville North replaced existing artificial turf in their stadiums; Lakeville North also added a practice field with turf.

Cost of installing turf at the four District 196 high schools has been estimated at $17 million to $19 million (bids have not yet been awarded for the upcoming projects at Apple Valley and Eastview).

According to District 196 officials, about two-thirds of metro-area high schools already have artificial turf on their stadium fields. Eagan, Rosemount, Apple Valley and Eastview will be the last four South Suburban Conference schools to install turf on their stadium fields.

Setter Larsen said the benefits of the project extend beyond football, soccer and lacrosse game nights.

“As athletic directors in 196, one of the things we’ve tried to emphasize is these fields will be educational space, too,” she said. “It’s a few more hours during the day that can be outside for (physical education) classes. It gives our marching band a safe place to practice. It also should help teams in EAA (Eagan Athletic Association). This time of year, EAA teams have to be done practicing before 8 p.m. because it’s dark.”

With the new field, Eagan High School now will be able to hold state playoff games in football, soccer and lacrosse, as other South Suburban schools with turf fields have done. Setter Larsen said the ability to host state tournament games was among the objectives of the stadium project.

The lighted practice field, which is expected to be completed next month, will be able to accommodate football, soccer, lacrosse and softball games, and baseball teams can use it for certain elements of practice. Putting a bubble over the stadium field is feasible, although there currently are no plans to do so.

The school district and Eagan TV will collaborate on use of the scoreboard’s video capability. Instant replay highlights of sports events will be part of it, but the technology also allows the school and ETV to innovate in coverage of activities such as graduation, Setter Larsen said.

Athlete safety also was a concern. There have been times when the school had to move home games from Wildcat Stadium because of the field’s condition, Setter Larsen said. The problem was even more pronounced last year at Rosemount, which had to shut down its field by October after it became muddy and unsafe. Remaining Rosemount home games were moved to other schools in the South Suburban.

Eagan’s coaches didn’t say they were at a competitive disadvantage because their teams played and practiced on grass fields in the fall, but Setter Larsen said they are on board with the upgrades, expecting it will put them on equal footing with their conference rivals in terms of facilities. “If anything, coaches from other schools might have felt they were at a disadvantage when they had to come here and play on our grass field,” she said. “But we’re excited about getting the turf, and we’re excited about what the project will mean for our school.”

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