Weather Or Not

Lancaster, PA – The Weather Channel just lost one of its most dedicated viewers. For years, Manheim Central coach Mike Williams spent much of his football season monitoring the changing climate conditions that affect, and afflict, the northeast every fall. Thanks to the recent installation of an A-Turf Premier field at Elden Rettew Field, however, Williams and the Barons are no longer at the mercy of Mother Nature.

“I would say that starting in October, we feared the weather,” Williams said Tuesday in his new office that’s part of Central’s sweeping, multi-million dollar upgrade of its athletic facilities.

“I would start looking at the long-range forecast on Monday. We feared that if we got rain, the game (on the ensuing Friday) would either be played in mud or be postponed.

“I don’t like playing in the rain,” Williams added, then smiled. “But I like snow.”

The latter comment was a reference to the 2003 “Snow Bowl” and Central’s epic double-overtime win over Pine-Richland in the 2003 PIAA Class AAA championship at Hersheypark Stadium.

That game was also played on A-Turf, and the fact that the Barons have made Hersheypark Stadium their second home when it comes to district and state playoffs should make their transition from scarred grass to synthetic turf fairly smooth.

“Our people did the best they could,” Williams said of the maintenance crew at Central. “We put a lot of money into the (grass) field but, basically, it just couldn’t hold up in the type of weather we have.

“We had soccer games on it, band competitions and that kind of thing, and (the condition of the field) was just regressing. I would almost be apologetic to other coaches when they came to our field in late October and November. Now, I don’t have to apologize.”

It seems fitting that one of the premier football programs in the state now has a facility to match. Williams said he’s expecting a large turnout when Central unveils its new rubber-and-sand infilled field in its home opener Sept. 8 against Gettysburg.

“It’s going to be a fun night,” he said.

The Barons’ football team isn’t the only beneficiary of the new turf, which sports a maroon-colored “MC” logo at midfield. Central’s soccer team, field hockey squad and marching band will all reap the benefits of a field that Williams estimated cost in the neighborhood of $800,000 but is largely maintenance free for the next 10-12 years.

Central is the latest L-L school to install a turf field. In fact, with five home games and two road games at Hersheypark Stadium (against Lower Dauphin Sept. 1 and Hershey Sept. 15), the Barons will play just three games this year (at Garden Spot, at Cocalico and at Lebanon) on natural grass.

When it comes to local high school football, it seems, dirt fields are going the way of the dinosaur.

“We have a good maintenance team and they really did their best, but they realized they were fighting a losing battle,” Williams said. “Turf is no longer a luxury, it’s a necessity. They’ll still have to do maintenance (on the new field), but their maintenance will be a positive one. It won’t be, ‘Geez, the field looks bad, we’ve got to do something about it.’ ”

The field, which is ringed by a newly-paved walkway, is only one aspect of Central’s facelift. The outdoor complex around the stadium includes nine new tennis courts, a new basketball court, and walking trails.

Across the street at the high school, Central has undergone what Williams estimated to be a $3.5 million upgrade that includes a massive, fully-equipped weight training facility, spacious locker rooms, a state-of-the-art trainers’ room, and a wrestling room.

The improvements were prompted, Williams said, by the building of a new middle school that is expected to open next year. Previously, the Barons’ weight training facility was located in the basement of the middle school.

“The Dungeon,” is what Central’s football coaches and players called the old weight room. With a new middle school being built, the Barons knew they needed to find space for their workouts.

“What to do?” Williams asked. “(Weight training) is the heart and soul of our program.”

Through the combined efforts of the school and the Manheim Touchdown Club, a new weight room was built and outfitted with an ample supply of modernized equipment and free weights.

“In the past, we got a lot out of a little,” Williams said. “Now, we have a lot. I think the people in the community can be proud of what we have here.”

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