Extreme makeover: Eskomo editionWhen the Esko football team hosts Moose Lake-Willow River for its home opener on Sept. 6, the game will have a decidedly different feel than contests played at Les Knuti Field last fall.
By: Louie St. George III, Duluth News Tribune
When the Esko football team hosts Moose Lake-Willow River for its home opener on Sept. 6, the game will have a decidedly different feel than contests played at Les Knuti Field last fall.
A year after the field, plagued by the June 2012 flood and four decades of usage, essentially was gutted, modern-day amenities are on the way thanks to a $2.7 million bonding referendum that was approved by voters last fall.
Among the new features: lights, bleachers, a press box and public address system and, perhaps most significantly, new turf to replace the tattered grass field.
Construction on the Eskomos’ athletic complex broke ground the week of June 17, and the football field remains on schedule for its Sept. 6 grand unveiling. Anticipation is rising for coaches, players and administrators, who can’t help but steal a few glances at the progress upon passing.
“I’m chomping at the bit,” Esko athletic director Chad Stoskopf said Tuesday afternoon. “I either drive by there, run by there or walk by there (every day), but I don’t want to go in there and slow anybody down, by any means.”
The complex resembled a state of controlled chaos on Tuesday. Heaps of dirt, earth movers and tractors dotted the site as a steady drizzle fell. The renovation process appeared to be firmly in the “out with the old” phase.
Still, it was a welcome scene considering what transpired just before last football season. The press box and wooden bleachers were condemned and the lights were deemed unsafe and removed, forcing the Eskomos’ home games to kick off at 4 p.m. For lawn chair-toting fans, it was a seating free-for-all. And the field itself was weathered and worn out.
While the new turf was not part of the $2.7 million referendum, the Esko Turf Club spearheaded a $400,000 fundraising campaign to make sure it was included. Impressively, that money was raised in a single month via business advertising and citizen pledges. The turf comes with a 10-year guarantee — incidentally, the turf at Public Schools Stadium, undergoing replacement this summer, lasted 14 years and its usage was far greater than what’s expected at Esko.
For Stoskopf, the artificial surface means no more scheduling nightmares.
“If we put in a grass field, we realized it would be limited to just varsity events, 20 to 25 each fall,” he said. “It’s gonna make my life a lot easier.”
The referendum, which passed three years after a $6.7 million plan was rejected by a 2-to-1 margin, also includes upgrades to the baseball and softball fields, a new track and storage and ticket buildings.
Senior-to-be Jacob Lindstrom is particularly excited for the new track. Esko hasn’t had a true home meet since the 1980s.
“It’ll be nice,” said Lindstrom, who plays football and basketball and competes in field events for the track team. “We haven’t really had any throwing facilities. We just throw off the sidewalk in the back of the school, so it’ll be nice to have some actual throwing facilities to actually practice.”
Last fall’s referendum is a scaled-back version of the 2009 plan, but Stoskopf believes all the necessities are accounted for. And even though voters soundly shot down the initial attempt, the athletic director was confident of approval last fall, especially after flooding devastated the complex.
“We’re the hub of the community and I thought we had a good chance this time around given that we didn’t have bleachers, we didn’t have lights,” he said. “The damage to our facility was obvious, and our community kind of came together as a result of the flood.”
Esko played all of its baseball and softball games on the road this past spring. Those fields are expected to be complete, along with the track, for the 2014 spring sports season.