MILLBURY — Less than three months ago, there were school buses lying nearby.
Last week, the football teamfinally got to practice again there.
Next week, the community will begin another phase in the healing process after a tornado ripped through on the night of June 5, destroying their high school and its football stadium.
Although Lake High School still remains sawed in half like a bad wood-shop project just a long touchdown pass away, the Flyers will christen the new Lake CommunityStadium on Sept. 3 when they take on Northwood in week 2 of the season.
“Football is pretty important to our community,” Lake coach Bob Abbey said. “They've shown that over the years, and the school itself is sort of like the hub of this community. It's a place where people meet and they congregate.
“Friday nights are great nights across the country, but it's going to be even more special here after what's happened.”
The efforts that went into rebuilding Lake's football stadium are nothing short of astronomical.
The field was covered in debris after an EF-4 tornado swept through northern Wood County, killing six people and damaging dozens of homes and businesses. From shards of glass to steel beams to entire school buses, the playing surface and surrounding area looked more like a landfill than a football field and was deemed a total loss.
“We thought we were just going to be able to clean it up and go back out there, but the insurance company wouldn't allow that,” Abbey said. “Because all of our other practice fields were damaged, plus the stadium, the insurance company and our administration felt it would be a better use of the funds to rebuild this first, especially since a lot of the other sports can use this field too.”
The synthetic playing surface is called “Xtreme Turf,” and because it looks and feels just like grass, it can be used for football, baseball, softball, soccer and several other sports.
Maumee Bay Turf Center, based in Oregon, was hired to install the surface, but before they could even begin to do that, 12-15 inches of dirt and sod had to be shaved off the top of the field to make sure there was no debris left behind.
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“There was so much debris embedded in the field, so one way or another it had to come out,” Maumee Bay Turf Center co-owner Brad Morrison said. “Once we cleared off the field, we realized we were halfway to installing a synthetic surface. Then we kicked around that idea with school officials for a couple days, and as the days wore on, it became more and more of an option. Once theinsurance company agreed that the kids had to have a place to play, we were there at 7 o'clock the next morning.”
But it wasn't a matter of calling a warehouse and ordering enough turf to cover an entire football field.
Every segment of the artificial turf must be specially manufactured for each individual project because it becomes damaged if it stays rolled up for too long, Morrison said.
“Usually if we're installing a field for the upcoming football season, I have to place an order by February so they can manufacture the product and have it ready,” Morrison said. “In this case, I had to call the president of the turf company in Texas, and he had to take everything he was doing off the mill and put this on. He had a group of guys, and they worked 70-80 hours for a week straight and even over the Fourth of July weekend to make that carpet.
“You don't normally just whip something like this together in such a short period of time, so a lot of things had to come together to make this happen.”
Morrison and his team were given a deadline to have the field ready for use by Sept. 1, and they came in well under that time frame. The Flyers had their first practice at the stadium on Aug. 16.
“This was a huge team effort between Maumee Bay Turf Center and Rudolph/Libbe,” Lake athletic director Dave Shaffer said. “Brad Morrison and Maumee Bay Turf worked feverishly seven days a week to get this project done, and they did a fantastic job. We get compliments every day on how good a job they did.”
The positives that have come as a result of this project are more than just aesthetic in nature, however.
Ben Sample, a senior defensive back for Lake, is one of several players on the team who were displaced by the tornado. His family's house on Neill Avenue in the hamlet of Moline was destroyed in the twister, but he said football has been a welcome distraction from the tragedy.
“It was rough for the first week realizing we lost our house and all of our stuff,” Sample said. “But the support from the community helping us clean up and rebuild really painted a different picture of the situation for myself and my family. Then once I got back to football, it really helped me put aside this whole disaster and help me get my mind off of it.”
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The Flyers had been practicing on a 70-yard makeshift football field on the north side of the baseball diamond on the school's campus while workers finished laying down the artificial turf at the new stadium. Before that, they conducted offseason conditioning and weight training in the old auditorium at nearbyWalbridge Elementary.
Workers will continue putting the finishing touches on the stadium up until the morning of the Northwood game, Shaffer said, adding that he won't have a final tally for how much the rebuilding project will cost until the work is complete.
“It really means a lot for this community,” Sample said. “This will only bring us all more together — I don't know if that's even possible — but for everybody that lost a lot, being able to see us playing on campus when nobody thought we'd get to play here at all this season is really important. Now we have this new stadium and they can all come out and support us on Friday nights, which I'm sure they will.”
Contact Zach Silka at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6084.