When the Frontier Regional High School track was renovated last fall – which circles the football field – the Frontier Youth Suburban football teams were looking for a place to hold games over a weekend on short notice.
The Gill-Montague Regional School District stepped up, but had a lot of work to do to get the Turners Falls High School football field ready for the game. Turners’ ground had not been used for football for three years, as the program began cooperating with other schools after the 2018 season, its only action being a few football games. With COVID and other retirements reducing the district’s maintenance and grounds staff, a small group took on the task of getting the field ready for football games in a week.
The staff, led by Gill-Montague District Maintenance Manager John Grace, returned the pitch to pristine condition by cutting grass and repainting all football lines. For this effort, the school was selected as the winner of the 2021 Fields of Excellence Award by Pioneer Athletics.
“It’s a great honor to receive this award,” said Grace. “It’s not just something that a local store distributes. It’s a national thing and you really have to work for it.
This is the second time the Gill-Montague District has won the award, as it also won in 2011.
Pioneer Athletics announces 100 winners each year for the award, but the top prize is getting it on the Pioneer Athletics calendar. Being on the schedule means you are one of the top 12 in the country, and the District of Gill-Montague will be represented on this year’s schedule.
“Pioneer understands that excellence in sports turf maintenance goes unrecognized and often undervalued,” Pioneer Athletics said in a press release. “The Fields of Excellence awards program honors exceptional sports fields and the field crews who diligently maintain them.”
Competing against schools from across the United States that have more resources made the award even more enjoyable.
“We ran into some schools in the South that have much larger staff and irrigation systems that we just don’t have here,” Grace said. “We are playing away from our league with our staff and what we have to make it work.”
Although Grace led the effort to get the grass cut and the lines painted, he was not alone. Jason Salls and Mark Sullivan volunteered to help as well as Turners Falls athletic director Adam Graves turning the rarely used pitch into a functional one.
The Frontier Suburban team ended up playing three games in one weekend on the field in September, including one in the floodlights.
“It’s amazing to see what our fields looked like then and what they looked like when we were done,” Grace said. “We do things that are rewarded alongside schools that have a lot more money and a lot more help to maintain their fields, which makes it rewarding.”
While the football field won the award, Turners Falls High School is proud of all of its fields. Last year a brand new backstop was installed behind the softball field, a field that ended up hosting state tournament games and any of their other fields could have been selected for this award. .
“Our football field, our field hockey field, our softball field, we play all night and everything is lit,” Graves said. “Everything is done the right way and we try to make everything as enjoyable as possible for the kids to play.”