Like all of Georgia’s high school football teams, those from Gwinnett County are already anticipating the beginning of 2019 season even though the beginning of preseason practice is just a week old.
But for two Gwinnett County Public School programs, the anticipation goes behind even the excitement of the general concept of getting on the field and playing to the type of field they will be playing on.
The playing surfaces at Duluth High School’s Cecil Morris Stadium and South Gwinnett’s Richard Snell Stadium are currently undergoing a dramatic makeover that will transform their traditional grass fields to artificial turf.
Those transitions begin a process in which all of the GCPS high schools’ stadium fields will have artificial turf, though that process will take place gradually over a few years.
The funds for the transitions come from a referendum that was passed by about 78 percent of Gwinnett County voters in November of last year, which approvedthe issuing of General Obligation Bonds up to an amount of $350 million to be used for improvements for the district.
According a link at the GCPS’ website, the installation at South will occupy $140,325 of those funds, while the installation at Duluth is costing $246,450, with Sports Turf Company, Inc. having won the bids for both back in April.
Coaches and players at both schools have expressed excitement about being the first two GCPS to join private schools Greater Atlanta Christian, Hebron Christian and Providence Christian to have artificial turf surfaces for their fields.
For South head coach Steve Davenport, the excitement stems not only from a faster playing surface, which he says should fit well with the speed and athleticism the Comets should have this season, but also from the fact it should also save in costs and labor in terms of maintenance.
“You obviously want it for your competitive advantage, but you also want it from a physical perspective, as well,” Davenport said during the GCPS’ Football Media Day last week. “People don’t recognize how much painting (yard lines and hash marks) and all those kinds of things can get expensive. Just to have a place that’s your own, that you can go to when it’s a little bit wet and don’t have to worry about tearing it up will be a big bonus for us.”
As late as the process got started at both South and Duluth this summer, it is still ongoing, which means both the Comets and Wildcats are keeping an eye on if it will affect their scheduled home openers for the 2019 campaign later this month.
South is scheduled to open the season Aug. 23 at home against Central Gwinnett, though Davenport said that game could be moved to Tally Johnson Field in Lawrenceville if the field isn’t ready, since the rivalry between the Comets and Black Knights, the oldest in Gwinnett County, is expected to continue through the next cycle of scheduling, and the loss of a home game this year could be made up with two straight games in Snellville, if necessary.
Meanwhile, Duluth coach Cam Jones said the Wildcats have already moved their scheduled preseason scrimmage against Pace Academy to the Knights’ home field in Atlanta.
He added school official are keeping an eye on the progress to see if the field, which also needed a new drainage system in addition to the new playing surface, will be ready for them to host Meadowcreek for the scheduled Aug. 30 home opener, and considering options if it is not.
“It got a late start, but fortunately for us, they got a ton of work done thanks to good weather during the dead week,” Jones said. “We’re concerned about (the home opener). Our scrimmage will be moved to Pace (Academy). We open the season at Shiloh, and then we’re supposed to play Meadowcreek at home on Aug. 30. We haven’t looked at the logistics, but we’re starting to talk about an alternative (if the field isn’t ready by then).”