Community pride and student athlete excitement about the new field at Havre de Grace High School’s James Harris Stadium peaked Thursday with the first game on the fresh turf.
Havre de Grace’s JV football team had the first game honors on the new field, suiting up Thursday to take on C. Milton Wright.
Alumni, faculty, students, city residents and visitors have watched patiently over the last three-plus months as the transformation from grass to turf slowly became a reality.
For Cheryl Harris, the widow of the man for whom the stadium is named, and their son, Scott Harris, the new turf field is more than local pride, it’s family pride.
“It’s a different perspective for me because, having the field named after my father, I have a different view than even other graduates,” Scott Harris, a Havre de Grace High School grad, said.
“As the son of Jim Harris, it’s a landmark for my kids,” he said.
He said the stadium and new turf pay tribute to his father’s influence in the Havre de Grace community and starts the conversation with his children about the grandfather they never knew.
Scott Harris said having the stadium named after his father pays tribute to more than the role he played coaching football and other sports at Havre de Grace High School.
“It was really just his total service to the community,” he said. “It’s a great thing to have that community landmark in my father’s name.”
Although Scott Harris hasn’t visited the new field, he has heard good reports and is looking forward to seeing it.
“My son goes to Bel Air High School so I can just imagine what it looks like,” Scott Harris said. Newly rebuilt Bel Air and Edgewood high schools have turf fields as of the start of the fall 2010 sports season, joining North Harford and Harford Tech high schools as those in Harford with turf fields.
Scott Harris hopes the new turf may lend itself to other events the city has hoped to host and maybe invite further donations for additional renovations.
“It’s really just another step to finishing the stadium project,” Scott Harris said.
The next steps include field houses and walkways, Scott Harris said.
“It’s just going to take time to get those things completed,” he added, also acknowledging financial constraints.
Cheryl Harris, like her son, hopes to get out to a game on the new turf some time soon.
“I can’t wait until I can go down there and stand up on the grandstand and see that it’s something great for our stadium,” Cheryl Harris said.
Cheryl Harris feels the new turf has been a long time coming and, like many others in the community, is proud of the change.
“The pride that we have down here, this will just make it even better for the school, the kids and for the community,” Cheryl Harris said.
After watching her grandson play at Bel Air High School, and until she gets the chance to see it in person, Cheryl Harris is trying to picture the Havre de Grace field looking just as crisp.
“I’ll be glad when the teams can get back on the field and start playing,” she said Wednesday.
John M. Harris Jr., known as Jack, is Jim Harris’ older brother. He also played football at Havre de Grace High School a long time ago.
“It’s looking really good,” Jack Harris said about the new turf. “With all the delays that they have had, they’ve done remarkably well.”
Jack Harris remembered when all sports were played on one field, which was in high demand.
“It was the only place we had to go,” he said.
Rich Holly, treasurer of the Community Projects of Havre de Grace, the nonprofit group that’s trying to complete the stadium, said he’s delighted with the quality and look of the new turf field.
The turf field was funded by the Harford County government and its parks and recreation department, but Holly said Community Projects of Havre de Grace built the grandstands, the press box, the scoreboard and the lighting and sound systems.
Holly, a teacher at the high school for 43 years, said the organization is hoping to raise more money to finish the project.
“Our part is to complete the concrete that goes in front of the home grandstand between the track and the brick wall,” Holly said. “We hope to build a home field house with bathrooms and a concession stand. It would be a place for the home team to go.”
Holly said completing the project has been slowed by the recession.
“We are behind where we would like to be,” he said. “We are hoping the completion of this wonderful turf field will set a little fire and encourage someone to make a donation.”
Holly said the organization’s goal was to use the facility for events other than athletics.
“We are thinking of this facility as more of a community stadium than just Havre de Grace’s athletic field,” he said.
Holly said Community Projects of Havre de Grace would like to bring outdoor concerts and Relay for Life events, among others, to Harris Stadium.
“We decided to do it first class since we had to raise the money ourselves to make it a community stadium,” he said. “Obviously, this is going to mean a field for the community to gather.”
Havre de Grace resident Volney Ford, president of Community Projects of Havre de Grace and a driving force behind the Harris Stadium concept, has played several important roles in the stadium project, including having his company be responsible for stadium construction.
“Every time we raise enough money we build another piece,” Ford said.
Since the new turf was funded by the county and parks and rec, Ford said, that part of the project out of his hands and it was a pleasant experience.
“In this case I got to sit back and smile and watch the activity,” Ford said.
Ford said the new turf is great quality and he and the organization are excited about its installation.
“We think it takes the entire stadium complex to a new level and it’s certainly in keeping with that stadium,” Ford said.
Ford firmly believes the new field surface is a great benefit to the students.
“The original surface was practically unplayable,” Ford said.
Ford explained the old surface of the field was hard on the kids and the soil barely grew grass.
“This new field solves all those problems,” Ford said.
Additional elements, including the snack bar, restrooms, walkways and flagpole, will only be enhanced by the turf, Ford said.
Ford envisions the stadium’s and field’s use stretching beyond the school.
“We’re gearing it up for regional events and the field’s going to be played on a lot,” Ford said. “The only way you can possibly do these events is to have turf.”
Coaches and players
The Havre de Grace community is enthusiastic about the new turf field, but no one is more excited than the coaches and players, who will call the new field home, or those who never got to coach or play on such a great surface.
“I think it’s a great asset to the community,” Phil Powell, a 1975 Havre de Grace High School graduate, soccer player and its girls soccer coach, said. “Great for the sport of soccer. A lot faster pace, true bounces and rolls and a more playable surface that is not weather driven. It’s a benefit to us all.”
“It’s a shame Jim Harris isn’t here to see it,” Powell said. “I think he would be proud of the community.”
Johnny Brooks, head football coach and Havre de Grace High School grad, who as a quarterback won a state championship for the Warriors on the old field a block or so away, said the new field will not only be great for his team, but also for parks and rec.
“Everyone will get to use it, from rec league teams on up, and that paves the way for better programs,” he said.
Brooks said the football team practiced on the new turf Wednesday.
“Now we have a field that can match anyone else’s in the county,” he said. “There’s some times where you go to other schools, and they’ll have a nicer field than yours, nicer facilities than you have. The kids see these things, and sometimes it makes [them] think they aren’t equal with the school they’re playing; that has an effect on them. With the [new] field, that shouldn’t be an issue, because it’s as nice as anyone’s.”
Brooks said the new turf field presents a different kind of play than a grass one.
“The new style of turf is a lot different than the stuff they used have; it’s a lot easier to play on,” he said. “I played on the old style turf, and it was really firm. You’d get into the shower after the game and feel it in your legs; you knew you weren’t playing on grass.”
Tom Marron, a longtime Havre de Grace resident who in 1997 retired after two stints that made him the school’s longest-serving football coach, said the turf field is a much-needed improvement.
“I do remember when I coached, one of the biggest problems was getting the field lined. I think it’s well overdue,” said Marron, who left Havre de Grace to coach at the then-new Joppatowne High School when it opened in 1972. When he left, Jim Harris, his friend and assistant coach, became head football coach at HHS.
“Way back in the day, when we tried to sod the field, when I first came on in 1967, 1968, it got to be too big a job for us. We only had four guys in the boosters.”
Marron jokingly recalled that when the school complained about the field, one of the county commissioners at the time was not impressed.
“He said, ‘When I was a kid, we played on the parking lot,’” Marron said. “You’ve got to improve, and I think we have got a state-of-the-art field for the kids, and it’s great.”
Donald Hendricks, one of the high school’s players in the early days of Harford County high school football, compared the original field with the new turf field.
“I wish I had it when I was playing football at Havre de Grace,” he said.
Hendricks said he has the opportunity to drive by the new turf field every day.
“It’s much better,” he said.
Donald Forsythe, a 1963 Havre de Grace graduate and longtime supporter of athletics at the school, also played football on the old field.
“I saw the field [on Wednesday], and it’s beautiful,” he said. “I’m extremely excited about it, because they’ve needed it for years. The committee put forth a really strong effort to raise money ... for things that the stadium needed. They sold just about everything they could to get things that other schools got for free.”
Forsythe also touched on parks and rec being able to use the fields.
“I think that kids coming up, through the rec leagues, should have a chance to use the field, play their games on it,” he said. “Since there aren’t many Saturday [high school] games, they’ll be able to.”
Class of 2010
Havre de Grace High School athletes can’t wait to play on the turf, especially the seniors who will be able to use the new field before graduating.
Grant McFarland, a senior soccer player, said he has been looking forward to having a turf field at Havre de Grace for a while.
“Before I was a freshman, I kept hearing ‘we’re getting turf, we’re getting turf,’” he said. “I’m glad it’s here.”
Boys soccer was supposed to be the first team to play on the new turf, but the delay finishing the field changed the first game on the field to JV football.
“We were supposed to play the first game on it, now it’s football. I was looking forward to being the first ones to have a game on it,” McFarland said.
Senior athletes Nick Gartside and Alicen Jobes also expressed their eagerness to use the new field.
“I’m excited I get to play on it my senior year,” Jobes, a captain on the soccer team, said. “We needed it and it finally came.”
“I like the idea of playing on the new turf,” Gartside, a football player, said. “The old field wasn’t the best, a little rough.”
County, town officials
When Harford County Executive David Craig coached Havre de Grace High School girls soccer in the late 1980s, he began practice by having the girls pick up rocks off the field.
Fast forward 20 years or so and Craig, a 1967 Havre de Grace High School grad, thinks the new turf field at his alma mater will be better and safer for athletes.
“It’s good for everybody,” Craig said. “It looks pretty good. They’ve been working diligently on it.”
Craig, a former Havre de Grace city councilman, mayor, delegate and state senator, broke his arm in 1965 during his first game as a JV football player at Havre de Grace. He advocates turf fields for all the county’s schools and has made it a top priority of his administration see that all 10 local high schools get turf fields.
“It’s safer and cheaper in the long run,” Craig, who is also a member of the first class being inducted this fall into the new Havre de Grace High School Hall of Fame, said. “These fields can be played on continually. I think it’s more equitable for all the kids to play on them.”
Don Osman, a longtime Havre de Grace resident and teacher at Havre de Grace high and middle schools and a member of the Harford County Board of Education, has been an advocate for Harris Stadium for years.
“I am just so excited about it opening, it has been a long time coming,” Osman, a Havre de Grace High School teacher from 1973 to 2005 and for a few years before that at Havre de Grace Middle School, said. “It [the field] is another facet of the stadium project that will bring the whole thing together.”
With the field complete, Osman said the next phase of building the concession stand, field house and restrooms can begin.
“The next phase should be done very quickly,” he said.
Osman said that at the Sept. 13 school board meeting he publicly thanked the county government and parks and rec for funding the new turf.
“It [the field] enhances the whole facility,” Osman said Wednesday.
Aside from having the field for Havre de Grace High School sporting events, Osman said, the purpose of Harris Stadium was to attract other events.
“It’s the largest stadium in Harford and Cecil counties behind Ripken [stadium] in terms of accessibility and seating capacities,” Osman said.
He said the field might also attract people moving to Harford County because of BRAC to live in Havre de Grace.
“They will ride past the school and the facilities and decide to live here,” he said.
Not only is Osman excited and proud of the new field, the entire community is.
“It’s a sense of pride for the community,” Osman said, adding that the new field isn’t tucked behind the school somewhere, but is out in the open. “It is a very impressive sight to see.”
Havre de Grace Mayor Wayne Dougherty, a 1968 Havre de Grace High School grad, said the new turf field is beautiful.
“I think the turf on there is going to make it a safer playing field for football, soccer and any other activities that go on there,” Dougherty said. “They’ve come a long way since Tomahawk Field.”
Dougherty also said he believes the late James Harris is “looking down with a big smile on his face.”
“I think as far as Havre de Grace High School is concerned, as well as all the citizens and students, we have a lot of pride in our community,” Dougherty said. “I think this just bumps our pride up another notch. It’s already at the top, so it’s hard to exceed.”
Pastor Ron Tabor, of First Christian Church in Havre de Grace, may not be a Havre de Grace High School grad, but he’s certainly a fan of the Warriors.
“I think the new stadium is a wonderful addition to the community,” Tabor said. “I think the turf field is one more great feature of the new stadium.”
Tabor said Mr. Harris was a “great coach and teacher.”
Both of Tabor’s sons played sports for Havre de Grace High School.
Jeremy Tabor, who played baseball, basketball and one year of JV football, graduated in 2008. His younger brother, Zachary, who graduated in June, played JV and varsity football.
“They think it’s great,” Tabor said. “I’m sure they would’ve loved to play on it.”
Tabor said he is excited to cheer on the Warriors this season.
“Havre de Grace has a strong football tradition and a great coaching staff,” Tabor said. “It’s a nice community feel to support the sports here.”
Lew Ward, a Havre de Grace High graduate who owns the Bayou Restaurant, said the field looks fantastic.
“It just looks great. It’s a super-looking thing and it’s appreciated [for] the efforts everyone put into the field,” he said. “It just really stands out and it’s something to be proud of.”
Ward said he remembers when the grandstands were installed and how much volunteer effort was required.
“It just shows what Havre de Grace does. When they need support, the people come out and do a great job,” he said.
Aegis staff members Kirsten Dize, Dewey Fox, Sports Editor Randy McRoberts, a Havre de Grace High School grad, Rachel Konopacki, L’Oreal Thompson and Bryna Zumer reported and wrote this story.