By J. L. Shively
Students at Verona High School were greeted at the start of this academic year with upgrades to their athletic facilities, allowing for more efficient usage and the possibility to host a broader range of events.
The work on the fields began in May 2016 and although not finished, has already gained the welcome approval of the students using them.
The full plan for the improvements consist of a wide range of upgrades which will make the facilities more accessible for use by the “community, our athletic teams, and our physical education department,” explains Robert Merkler, director of Athletics and Special Programs at Verona HS since June.
Members of the community and the district administration were directly responsible for the initiation of improvement plans with support from the Board of Education.
One of the improvements which has been completed is the addition of a fifth tennis court, which will allow Verona HS the ability to host state tournament matches. Turf, lighting, fencing and bleachers have been added to the Thomas J. Sellitto Athletic Field.
“The turf and lights will allow us to play day or night games and host events involving our football, soccer and lacrosse teams as well as physical education class, band competitions and community events,” states Merkler.
Further updates include changes to the entire complex of the lower field with the addition of turf. These changes will resolve conflicts with baseball and softball programs that may arise due to postponements.
Improvements to the lower fields also include the addition of a 100 yard and 80 yard lined fields to host additional soccer, lacrosse, football and band events.
“The addition of this field space allows our teams to participate in practices or games on campus,” explains Merkler.
The updates in the entirety are projected to be completed by Oct. 15 and will cost approximately $5.6 million.
The referendum to plan for these improvements began in Sept. of 2013, according to Merkler, and was then officially approved by the community by a vote in March of 2014.
After the referendum was past, plans were made between June 2014 and May 2016 when the final revisions and plans were produced and put into effect.
The main goal of this project was to improve the facilities to be better utilized for all students and, Merkler explains, “these spaces are now their own, which creates a sense of pride among our students and faculty.”
Before these renovations, Verona athletes had been using the community center for hosting events and had to walk to neighboring fields to use them.
“Students would have to drive or walk to practice, which cuts into practice time,” Merkler explains. “Over the course of the season those fields tend to wear down due to the amount of usage.
“From an athletic director standpoint, I am ecstatic about these changes,” adds Merkler. “My main goal is to host as many events as we can on our fields and create a sense of pride and home field advantage among our student-athletes.”
He is not the only one impressed, “the students absolutely love the field,” says Merkler. “The greatest thing I have seen so far was when that football team first stepped out onto the field. The smiles on their faces were absolutely priceless.”
Merkler invites the entire community to come to as many events as possible and to “see all the hard work and effort our students and coaches put into their sports, band, clubs and activities,” he concludes.