WARNER ROBINS -- Since McConnell-Talbert Stadium was constructed in 1968, the facility has been witness to national championship teams, state championship teams and All-American players.
McConnell-Talbert has hosted numerous playoff games and even state championship games, so when the Northside Eagles were forced to play two home playoff contests at neutral sites last season due to poor field conditions, the Houston County Board of Education knew it had to act.
The Board voted to spend nearly $1 million to replace the previous natural grass competition area with FieldTurf. The new bright green surface made its football debut Thursday when Warner Robins hosted Rutland in a scrimmage.
“I think (the players) were really excited about it,” Warner Robins head coach Bryan Way said. “We practiced on it the day before, and it’s a very nice surface. How could you not be excited to play on something like this?”
“It’s a lot better,” Warner Robins quarterback Ivan Corbin Jr. said. “I just like it a lot better than grass.”
Even at the scrimmage, it was clear that the school board plans to look after its investment as much as possible.
There was a noticeable security presence around gates leading on to the field, which had been unmanned in the past. Fans had increasingly opted to stand in front of the fieldhouse in recent years, but it appears access to that area will now be limited.
“Definitely with the new turf, we’re trying to restrict the amount of people on there,” Houston County Board of Education maintenance coordinator Billy Dollar said. “With an investment like that, you want to protect it as much as you can.”
Dollar will help lead a team that looks after the turf. Other than gathering up chinstrap buckles and other debris, the field will require minimal care between games.
“About once a week, it has to be brushed, and we have a groomer that cleans it up,” Dollar said. “You run it in a Zamboni pattern, just like you would at a hockey rink. In about a year, we’ll have to fluff up the infield material, but other than that, it’s a pretty maintenance free facility.”
Houston County will host Veterans on Aug. 27 in the inaugural regular-season game on the turf. The Bears will continue to call McConnell-Talbert home for the rest of the year until moving into its new stadium along with the Warhawks in 2016. That stadium will also have FieldTurf.
For now, Houston County will play its home games on a field with one end zone painted for rival Warner Robins and the other for rival Northside.
“We’re anticipating our stadium next year, but the thing is when it’s 7:30, the ball is going to be kicked off, and it doesn’t matter what’s on one end zone and what’s on the other,” Houston County head coach Von Lassiter said. “The stadium is super nice, and our board of education has given us a lot of nice things at our school now with our renovations, so we can be patient, wait a year and not worry about what’s in the end zone.”