When the Pitman High School football team ran onto the field for practice on Thursday morning, they felt soft turf under their cleats not at Joe Debely Stadium, but on a brand-new field of their own for the very first time.
It was a moment 17 years in the making, PHS Athletic Director Dave Walls said, and while the field will only be used to practice for the time being, the morning was one the Pride will never forget.
“I didn’t think during my time as athletic director I would be able to see this,” Walls said. “We’re not across town, which isn’t any dig on them, but we’re here on our own turf.”
The $4.5 million Pitman Playfield Renovation project, for which construction began last year, brings not only an all-weather track and synthetic turf field to the high school, but also includes two new softball fields and a soccer practice field. Funded through Bond Measures N and O, a new field at PHS was prioritized by stakeholders in a community survey meant to determine what projects Turlock Unified School District should tackle first.
“As a District we are always proud to see our student body practicing on high-performing, state-of-the-art, safe facilities,” Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Barney Gordon said. “The results of this project are an exceptionally positive addition to Pitman High School and the surrounding neighborhood.”
Despite the new digs for Pride athletes, there’s still quite some work — and fundraising — to be done before games can be played on not only the football field, but the softball fields as well. While competition is expected to take place on the new softball diamonds this upcoming season, the fields still need a scoreboard and the football field still lacks stadium seating, a scoreboard and lights.
These are key elements the Pitman Development Foundation hopes to help raise funds for, though there’s no timeline for exactly when the Pride will be able to enjoy a game under the Friday night lights. The new field will, however, save the Pride from having to travel across town to Joe Debely once a week to practice on the turf.
According to PDF President Renee Pacheco, it could cost upwards of $3-4 million to construct bleachers, a snack bar, restrooms and lights at the new field. A scoreboard is the top priority on that list, she said, as one would allow both soccer and track and field to compete on the facility. PDF is also working to raise funds for a softball scoreboard, Pacheco added.
“We appreciate and support the efforts of the Pitman Development Foundation and look forward to working closely with them to identify additional funding opportunities and community partnerships supporting Pitman High School facilities,” Gordon said. “There is not currently a timeline for additional upgrades to the playfield area at Pitman High School, but we certainly look forward to continued development of all our District facilities as funds become available.”
The scoreboard PDF would like to see installed at the new football field would cost around $66,000, Pacheco said. It has the digital capability to display video ads, which would provide an ongoing source of funding for the school. The foundation is looking for two “lifetime” sponsors of $30,000 each, which would receive a dedicated, permanent place on the scoreboard.
The community has already supported a forthcoming barbecue pit at the field, with the Arrowhead Club donating $10,000 toward the project and Torre Reich Construction donating time and effort into the plans and construction of the pit.
Thanks to community support and the school’s first-ever Hall of Fame Dinner last fall, PDF has raised about $25,000. Currently, the foundation is selling personalized bricks to be used in future projects on the field, which can be ordered at polarengraving.com/pitmandevelopmentfoundation. Other upcoming fundraisers include an alumni volleyball game on Aug. 24 and a bus trip to Black Oak Casino on Sept. 7. Those interested in donating to the cause or attending a fundraiser can contact Pacheco at 209-678-6550.
“We would love the community’s support in completing some of these projects,” Pacheco said.
Though there’s still a lot to be done before a football game is played at PHS, for the athletes who took the field on Friday, it was a long time coming. Principal Angela Freeman held back tears as she welcomed the team to their new home, encouraging them to practice and play their hardest every time they take to the turf.
“I think today is a historical moment. What a great experience and a great memory you know these athletes will never in their entire life forget,” Freeman said. “I am so appreciative that our community felt the need and the purpose to provide funding to do this…to see this through and to give us such a high-quality, top-notch field for our kids to practice on and in the future play on, we’re just so appreciative of what we have.”