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Dream becoming reality: New Boone Grove athletics complex scheduled to host first event on Sept. 1

PORTER TOWNSHIP -- The dream started to become real to Josh Russell at the Porter Township School Corporation meeting when the board approved plans for a $10 million facilities project.

It became a little more real when the Boone Grove Athletics Director walked the construction site with Superintendent Dr. Stacey Schmidt.

"It was a surreal moment," Russell said. "One of the first people I think of when I come out here is (the late) coach (Glenn) Adler, how much he would be over the moon. (Former football) coach (Tony) Tinkel was blowing my phone up when it was first announced. To see this come to fruition, I think of all the people who set the groundwork for this, all the people who made it what it is, an historic school corporation."

If the schedule holds, the dream will become reality Sept. 1, when the Wolves football team is slated to host Gary West Side in the nomadic program's first on-campus home game at the high school's new stadium.

"I told (coach) Dan (Kukulski) jokingly that I'm not going anywhere until you get your field," Russell said. "He said, what now? I'm not going anywhere. I'm very blessed to be on this staff. This community, this school, specifically the football team, they deserve this. Instead of having to load up a bus every Friday, they get to walk out of their school onto their own field. One morning, I got a text from the superintendent, it was a picture with the lights up. That's how excited everyone, top down, is. We're bringing the pack home."

The lighted, 2,500 capacity stadium, will also be the home to the soccer and track/field teams, an eight-lane synthetic track surrounding the turf field. It is the centerpiece of a Gariup Construction project that also includes an adjoining multi-purpose facility that will contain a concession stand, team room, football locker room, girls locker room, trainers room, officials room, coaches office and a weight room, as well as fieldhouse areas for wrestling and basketball and hitting cages for baseball and softball that will be a mere throw from their fields.

"My first year (as A.D.) was COVID," Russell said. "Needing more space became very prevalent."

The stadium lights are low-pollution, directional LED lights, the same kind Valpo has for its baseball stadium, and the turf is the same as what Valpo has on its football field. Inside the school, the stage is also undergoing a remodel with lights, sound system and flooring.

"We keep trying to stress, this is not just football," Russell said. "It was, how can we improve the whole environment? This is touching every single athlete and student, the arts, athletics, academics. This will more than double the active training space. Wrestling will have its own dedicated space. The band director is talking about band concerts. It's a win-win for everyone. We're about our kids out here. The motto here is every student, every day, to reach their fullest potential. The pack mantra is very important to us. Every single wolf is as important as the next one. With this, we get to send that message."

Russell also knows what sports pay the bills and the prospects for athletics revenues will never be higher. Boone Grove played its first varsity football season in 2010, competing a full schedule the following year. Its first few years, home games were played at the middle school on Saturdays, since the field has no lights. The school then struck a deal to play 'home' games at Valparaiso.

"Ever since I've been at Boone, that's eight seasons, we've always been at Valpo," Russell said. "Valpo has been an unbelievable host. Letting us use their facility at a rate, we couldn't ask for anything better. That's an hour plus round trip for some of our families. We'd take our concession trailer to Valpo and supplied the workers. We were essentially hosting at their facility. A home game is one thing, but when everything says Valpo, that's not a home game."

It also spread out the fan base, having football and boys volleyball in the same season.

"Dance, cheer, football, volleyball was all going at the same time," Russell said. "We were the only school that was doing everything. How do you give equal support? You can't as hard as you try. It's impossible. Every sport will be able to get their spotlight. Boys volleyball moving to the spring opens up a lot for us. It's sad, missing those Friday doubleheaders, but we're not going to be competing for those crowds anymore. Those are huge adjustments, but ones we're excited about. Change is hard. At our root, we're a PCC school and always will be. We hold our traditions close, but we don't let them hold us back."

A school of just over 500 students, BG depends on both multi-sport athletes who also do more than one in a season. Venue proximity will also enhance those opportunities.

"That's the life blood of a small school," Russell said. "We have softball players who'd love to run track and now boys volleyball players. They can go straight from one to another."

The whole endeavor began with the construction of a wastewater facility since the complex is located where the prior facility stood. It was followed by a massive relocation of land to raise the ground level of the site.

"The big thing with this project was the earth work," Russell said. "It was a huge undertaking. The big thing is we need Mother Nature to cooperate. She has so far. It was about as good a spring weather-wise as we've ever had. The supply chain to keep running smoothly. If there's a dry spell, we might be talking earlier. Our (football) schedule is favorable that way. We're on the road the first two weeks. That gives us a little extra buffer on this."

While it would obviously be ideal to not have to move home games, Russell emphasized that the necessary time will be taken to ensure the quality of the finished product.

"We've been in contact with West Side. The current soccer fields are up and running," he said. "We can't take shortcuts. We've got to get it done right. The weight room will hopefully be filled by the end of the calendar year. Moving stuff is a huge pain. We'll be transitioning throughout the year. Once they're done, hosting tournaments becomes very plausible. We want to show the community off to people. This is for the generations, not just one class, the longevity of Boone Grove. We truly want this to be a community hub."

Such projects are often a subject of great debate due to costs and taxpayer expense, but Porter Township is able to get it all done through bonding and no increased financial burden on residents of the school corporation.

"We're very blessed to be in the position we are," Russell said. "The community has been unbelievably supportive. All the feedback is, let's go. These dollars go back to our kids. We've upgraded our Hudl packages, new cameras, we'll be able to live stream inside and outside. Baseball and softball will have access as well. I can not stress enough, Dr. Schmidt is unbelievable for all our kids. She values staff. The school board is supportive of our teachers, first and foremost, supportive of extracurriculars, athletics. They have kids involved in band, drama. It's truly a special place out here. The public education sphere is under fire, and Porter Township is just not that way."

In a time when school systems often have to sell themselves to parents and students, the project makes Boone Grove more marketable.

"I think of the kids who get to grow up here," Russell said. "We want it to be a place where kids grow up and want to come back to and raise their families. We want everyone to come back. We want Boone Grove to be a place where people want to be."

A blueprint shows what the field will look like at Boone Grove's at athletic complex when it's completed. The school is scheduled to host is first football game Sept. 1.

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