Herald Photos / Jenn Goad
PROGRESS  — The Wildkats start their season on the new turf practice field while the field at Walter Cross Stadium is still under construction.
Herald Photos / Jenn Goad PROGRESS — The Wildkats start their season on the new turf practice field while the field at Walter Cross Stadium is still under construction.
Walter Cross Field continues to evolve as Kokomo School Corporation adds the next level of modifications to its football stadium. The turf installation on the main field is well underway but behind the stadium is a turf practice field that the Wildkats have been practicing on following their return from moratorium week. 

“It was nice to be able to go in July after moratorium to get right on the field and get after it. It doesn’t really affect anything we do regardless of what surface we play on. In July, we’re going to do the same stuff. We can’t tackle, we can’t go live, but you can go after it hard without bringing anyone to the ground,” said Wildkat head coach Brett Colby. 

The positives and negatives of playing on turf have come to the forefront of practice, but the Kats are all business at this point.

“The biggest deal is the heat. The heat that comes off of the material in the turf. The rubber in there absorbs the heat and makes the surface hotter than grass would. It’s just getting used to it,” Colby said. “We play so many on turf anyway that it’s nice to have it to practice on to get ready for the difference in temperature when you have to go on when you’re not used to it.”

Players and coaches alike are cognizant of the differences between turf and grass, with coaches taking special precautions due to turf putting off more heat than its natural counterpart.

“[The heat is] something you have to get used to. Being on it for two weeks, that’s been the biggest adjustment. We have to keep the kids hydrated and get them into practice hydrated. We’ve been going in our workouts about three, three and a half hours breaking every 15 to 20 minutes, and we have water at every station all of the time,” Colby said. 

On the flip side, the biggest positive to the new surface is how quickly it drains. Colby said the first few days of practice were spotted with heavy amounts of rain, but the surface cleared so quickly after the last drop fell the team was able to get on the field almost immediately.

“It poured three days in a row. We were able to get on 30 minutes after the lightening was gone,” he said. “We were able to go out to the practice field and it was like practicing on dry ground because it drained so well. Their feet weren’t getting soaking wet and we weren’t tearing the field up. We used to have to move around all the time to keep from ruining the grass. Three of the four days we were out there, it absolutely poured for a half hour to an hour.”

He said the team has not needed to make many adjustments to their style of play since they have a few games on turf each season. For the most part, the players are used to the surface. 

“In the last four or five years, we’ve played on it about three to four times per year it seems like. Most of the kids are familiar with it,” said Colby. “It’s really not that big of a switch.”

“You do get a little bit of bounce off it. It can feel a little quicker because it’s so responsive to your step.”

Colby said another big positive for the turf fields are that they are ready for play all of the time. Maintenance is low with turf so there is no need to worry if the grass has been mowed or the lines have been drawn on the field. He also said the fields would benefit more than just the football teams. The physical education students and other sports teams will have the opportunity to utilize the fields throughout the year.

“This year, baseball was ready for practice in February in 70 degrees and couldn’t get out anywhere. Now they’ll be able to get out on the practice or game field and hit ground balls since they play on turf downtown. Same for the softball team because they play on some turf surfaces,” he said. 

The high school football teams weren’t the only players that have been out on the new field. Colby held his Wildkat football camp on the new practice field.

“It was probably their first time they’ve ever seen it in person. They had a lot of fun with it. I think they really enjoyed being out there and getting a feel for what that’s like. It was neat,” he said. 

Having a surface on the football field at the high school is a big experience for the high school footballers. In most cases, the players see the pristine surfaces on television with the collegiate or professional teams. Now they will play on it at home.