Come November Stouffer Field is in rough shape.
It’s pockmarked. Large expanses of dirt are exposed. The traction-tending turf is stressed to the point that it can’t withstand any more pressure.
Even with a management plan in place intended to curtail usage and preserve the playing surface, the field is Ripon’s only stadium suitable for football and soccer games. That means even when the home school is away for the week the other school in town moves in for the night.
Yes, it’s safe to say that Stouffer Field is the most popular place in Ripon on Friday and Saturday nights during the fall months.
But after last weekend, the Ripon Community Athletic Fund is hoping their work will stave off the symptoms of overuse. A recent $300,000 anonymous donation essentially funds the all-weather track that will be completed by the end of the year. On Saturday, the non-profit that started seven years ago focused its attention on the school’s practice field – a 26,000 square-foot-surface that until recently was at the mercy of the weather and those able to carefully tend to it.
Much like the game-time field that was installed several years ago, the practice area now includes concrete mow-strips and state-of-the-art irrigation and drainage. The upgrade – tucked in on the northern end of the football stadium – will provide an alternative area for the football teams to practice.
“It’s been a long process, but this town has been amazing in its support,” said organization founder Stephanie Hobbs. “Ripon has always shown up. We’ve had over 800 people make donations of whatever they could afford, and that kind of a response – we’re so grateful. It’s something that our whole community should be proud of.”
Volunteers turned out en masse to help re-sod the massive practice area that was once an afterthought for athletic teams. By putting up concrete curbing and new fencing, Hobbs said, the area will become much more utilized and give coaches and players a viable alternative for both practices and pre-game warm-ups.
And even though it was Hobbs who turned the idea of an all-purpose stadium surface and track into a widely-supported community event, you aren’t going to hear her bragging about any of the achievements or milestones reached in recent years.
The work, she said, was a joint effort by the committee that is currently overseeing the operation and the community that has opened its wallet to support it. While her family will be greatly impacted by the upcoming changes – her husband, she said, has spent “thousands” of hours down at the high school and sometimes goes to the track straight from work – the benefits to the students and those who will utilize the facilities has always been the focal point.
So far more than $1.4 million in improvements have been made, and headway into the next phase of development is ongoing – soliciting bids for the rebuilding of the stadium’s bathrooms and aging bleachers. Dozens of local businesses have donated either monetarily or in-kind and the outpouring of support from individual residents has turned what was once a small idea into a livable dream.
Providing state-of-the-art facilities that will serve as a gathering point for the community, Hobbs said, will be of tremendous value.
“It’s been an incredible experience seeing the best side of people and just being that hub where so many people can share resources to make this possible,” she said. “I hope people see our project and realize Ripon’s (or any town’s) potential for what can happen when there’s a collaborative, relentless pursuit of a common goal.”