By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
After being stadium-less, Turlock athletes have a place to practice, excel
track pic3
Nicole Cipponeri is one of the many Turlock High track and field athletes who has benefitted from having a central location to practice – Debely Stadium. The junior pole vaulter has already exceeded her personal-best record this season, though unofficially. - photo by CHHUN SUN / The Journal

It was an oh-so ordinary day for the Turlock High track and field athletes on Monday afternoon at Joe Debely Stadium. Hurdlers and jumpers loosened their limbs on an artificial turf field. Runners warmed up on an all-weather track. Pole vaulters battled a slight wind down a marked runway before extending skyward.

The only thing out of place was the giant crane installing new restrooms on the south end of the stadium near the shot put and discus rings, forcing the athletes to work on other aspects of their events until everything was in place. But they didn’t mind. They understood the process. So do their teammates.

Unlike last season, these Turlock athletes don’t have to be imaginative when it comes to finding a place to develop their skills. They have one central location to throw, run and jump. And they get to showcase all these talents today, when the Bulldogs host Merced High and Buhach Colony High in a Central California Conference opener — their first official meet in the $3.6-million renovated stadium this track and field season.

“It was a good investment,” said senior Kevin Kamrar, who competes in the shot put and discus. “We don’t have to practice at Turlock lake this spring.”

He speaks for all of his Turlock teammates and coaches. They all remember how difficult it was to hold practices last season because the stadium was under construction throughout the spring. It was a needed change, considering the original field and track were developed in1950 and 1977, respectively.

The renovation started on April 5, 2010.

The grand opening was Aug. 16.

The first big sporting event took place on opening day, when Pitman football hosted a 48-36 loss to Modesto High.

During much of this time, Turlock track and field athletes met at Crane Park — across the street from Turlock High — to use the area and city streets as their track. Throwers practiced at a field adjacent to the stadium, where, if they weren’t careful, a discus could ricochet off the nearby fence. Another problem was rain: Sometimes their makeshift discus and shot put rings became flooded, delaying practice for three days before a safe field turned up.

The pole vaulters made a 15-minute trek to Hughson High, where, as coach Ed Schollenberg put it, they had “older stuff” with an unmarked runway and a collection of pads in the landing area instead of one giant pad, something the Bulldogs boast now. The coaches and athletes, however, were always appreciative of their Hughson practice location, seeing that was the lone place available due to the tracks at nearby Pitman High, Denair High and Cal State Stanislaus being occupied last season.

“It was a pain to drive there and back,” said Schollenberg, noting that having a pole vaulting area closer to the school gives interested athletes a better picture at what the Bulldogs do. “As we’re out here doing this, it’s intriguing. Last year, we couldn’t show anybody.”

These days, all the Turlock athletes have to do is get dressed in their respective locker rooms and walk just a few feet to their recently renovated home. The stadium isn’t just nice to look at, with an artificial turf for soccer and football, an all-weather track, pits for the jumping events, improved seating areas, a fancy scoreboard and a drain system that, among other things, keeps the shot put and discus area from getting flooded.

The stadium has also improved the performances of the Turlock athletes. They have been breaking personal-best times and marks as if they were high scores in a video game. Senior Michael Nissan’s discus throw is about 30 feet further than last year’s. Junior Nicole Cipponeri said she has cleared, in practice, 10 feet in the pole vault — nearly a foot better than the mark she set at last season’s Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Meet.

“I’m doing better already,” Cipponeri noted. “I’ve already gone over my P.R., and I’m improving.”


Not just for the Bulldogs 

Though the facility is in their own backyard, the Bulldogs have to share Debely Stadium with other teams in the Turlock area and people who simply just want to stay in shape. In other words, the stadium belongs to the community.

“We’re pleased with the outcome and the facility,” said Ed Felt, deputy superintendent for the Turlock Unified School District. “The student-athletes haven’t had any interruptions. We didn’t have to cancel or postpone events because of weather.”

The stadium is open from 6:30 a.m. to 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. for such activities as walking and jogging, unless it’s being used by a football, soccer or track and field team. However, it is not open during the weekends because, Felt said, the district does not have the funding to hire supervision, though the facility is available for rental use.

The district also got help from the community during the stadium facelift. For example, the Turlock Lions Club gave $40,000 to build a barbeque pit. Meanwhile, officials are planning a $4,500 public announcement system after the Turlock Turf Crew donated $2,000 to the effort.

The installation of the restrooms earlier this week completed the first phase of the renovation, as Felt said officials have in mind a snack bar, storage area and a handicapped-accessible path to the press box for future construction, with the latter being the most imminent project.

Local schools are benefitting from the renovation. The Pitman and Turlock Christian track and field teams hold practices and meets at the stadium. An average day at the stadium looks like a sports camp, with athletes developing their running, jumping and throwing skills on the track as the school’s girls soccer team practices on the artificial turf.

Just as Kamrar, the Turlock senior discus and shot put thrower, said: It was a good investment.

To contact Chhun Sun, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2041.