Johnny Tusa has lived in Central Texas long enough to have seen all sorts of weather — sometimes in the same day.
The Waco ISD athletic director hopes the district’s latest project acts as a bit of weatherproofing.
Waco ISD dedicated a new artificial turf for one of its softball fields at its athletic complex off New Road and Bagby on Monday, complete with an artificial turf field that officials believe will hold up well against thunderstorms.
“First and foremost, we want to take care of the two teams that play here in Waco, but beyond that we want to help the community, help those in the surrounding counties and neighborhoods and be able to come out here and utilize this,” Tusa said.
The project required six weeks of work and cost $400,000. Crews from Hellas Construction in Austin installed the all-weather synthetic turf, starting with a drainage system, then a stone foundation and cushion pad. Waco ISD’s director of athletic facilities Jack Stanley said that now if a storm arrives, it won’t necessarily lead to cancellations, as has happened in the past.
“The rain goes through the turf, through the rock, to the liner, runs down the liner, because everything is sloped on a pitch and goes to the nearest ditch around, and goes out the drainage system that leads out to New Road. It can drain,” Stanley said. “If it rains an inch on here, you could play in 10 minutes.”
Or, as Tusa put it, “If it rains, it drains.”
The idea to shift from grass to an artificial turf field was born two years ago, when the Waco ISD complex canceled an array of games due to bad weather. The TAPPS state softball tournament, which had long played in Waco, moved to Houston in 2015 and Sweeny last year.
“If you remember two years ago when we had our wet spring, out here at the stadium with our three TAPPS tournaments and playoff games, we lost 100 games,” Stanley said. “They had to go elsewhere or cancel. And of course we charge a rental fee to use the facility, like everyone else, and I calculated that we lost about $20,000 to $30,000 for WISD. So that kind of got the conversation going to, ‘We need to do something when it does rain so we don’t lose games.’”
Both the Waco High and University softball teams took part in Monday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony before engaging in a joint practice and seemed to enjoy the true bounces from the ground balls that came their way.
Waco ISD softball has come a long way, said University coach Karen Ramirez, a former Lady Trojan player.
“Oh yeah, it’s a lot different, to the field we had at the old University High School with no back fence and everything,” Ramirez said. “This is great for the girls. I’m super proud to be here still and get to see this firsthand.”
The field will not only be used for games involving Waco High and University, but officials are hoping that it will be a popular draw for playoff games. Based on the research Waco ISD has done, it’s believed to be just the third softball diamond in Central Texas to feature artificial turf, along with fields in Cameron and Whitney, Stanley said.
Waco ISD’s two softball fields — the second field remains grass — have hosted more than 500 regular-season and playoff games over the past seven years. Waco ISD athletic officials hope to next bring artificial turf to Veterans Field No. 1 at the adjacent baseball complex by the 2018 season, though funding for that project hasn’t yet been approved by the school board.
“Wherever we go beyond the season or not, we have improved Waco’s ability to have competitive ball teams on a surface that gives them an opportunity to up their game each and every day,” Tusa said.