Turf chores: Perkins' facelift begins
Thanks to a $1.5 million leadership gift from David and Lolita Kachel and the Kachel family, one of the most fan-friendly football venues in NCAA Division III is about to become even friendlier.
Work began Wednesday on the installation of FieldTurf at Perkins Stadium on the campus of UW-Whitewater, which is the final phase of a renovation project that also included landscaping in and around the stadium, new bench areas, four retaining walls and a new and improved video scoreboard. A total of $1.1 million of the $1.5 million endowment from the Kachel's is funding the improvements at the stadium.
The defending national champion Warhawks will unveil the state-of-the-art additions at Perkins Stadium on Friday night, Sept. 5, in the season opener against St. Xavier. The Warhawks are hoping to start practicing on the polyethylene version of FieldTurf on Aug. 21.
Whitewater athletic director Paul Plinske said Perkins Stadium is set to become one of the finest on-campus facilities in the nation.
"Perkins Stadium is already ranked in the top five nationally in Division III as far as size, the spectator-friendly environment and the home-field advantage that it gives us, but now it will rank right up there with anybody," Plinske said. "Not only DIII, where there are 230 schools, but DII and some DI.
"Whitewater is a happening place right now, and we've modernized things to make it an appealing place for our new students. We have the highest freshmen enrollment this fall that we've ever had, and a big reason for that is that we have so much to offer both academically and athletically."
Although the Warhawks have won 25 straight home games—the last loss was to UW-Stevens Point in 2004—two recent home playoff games held under deplorable field and playing conditions made the decision to upgrade to FieldTurf an obvious one.
The final straw was last December's 16-7 playoff win over Mary Hardin-Baylor. That game was nearly moved to another site after a midweek winter snowstorm left Perkins Stadium under more than a foot of snow.
Workers spent three hectic days trying to get the field ready. Even then, footing was treacherous on much of the field.
Plinske said the installation of FieldTurf will save the university between $15,000 and $20,000 a year in painting, fertilization and seed expenditures.
The synthetic surface also will help the university utilize one of its best resources in other ways.
"My dream is to have more marching band competitions, concerts, high school jamborees and playoff games here at the stadium," Plinske said. "I would love to have community events out here and use this facility 10 times more than it's being used now."
Whitewater football coach Lance Leipold couldn't hide his excitement as he watched the installation of the FieldTurf. As a first-year head coach last season, Leipold guided the Warhawks to the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl title against heavily-favored Mount Union College (Ohio).
Leipold knows that three straight trips to the Stagg Bowl and one of the finest on-campus facilities in the nation will help attract respective recruits. That makes Leipold's job a lot easier and can help his staff to concentrate more on the X's and O's.
"Our student-athletes are going to have more consistency because now this is becoming a facility that can be used on a more year-round basis," Leipold said.
Paul's (Plinske) vision to keep pushing forward can only help us to stay at the level we are at as an entire athletic program," Leipold said. "To have that support that we do from everybody from the chancellor to the athletic director, to the students and the alumni—and certainly the Kachel family—makes it a great time to be a Warhawk."
And the Warhawks invite their fans to come out on opening night and see how great it is—where a refurbished Perkins Stadium will offer an atmostphere that's anything but artificial.