By Gene McGivern,
Sports Information Director
Never again will lawnmowers roll across the infield at St. Thomas’ O’Shaughnessy Stadium. Summer 2004 will bring a state-of-the-art synthetic surface to the heart of the St. Thomas campus, thanks to a gift from 1973 St. Thomas alumnus Bill Palmer and his father, Art.
The Palmers have donated $1 million to pay for improvements to the St. Thomas weight training room and for the new artificial turf at O’Shaughnessy Field.
Bill Palmer, who grew up in Stillwater, played briefly for the Miami Dolphins after leaving St. Thomas. He works in commercial real estate for C.B. Richard Ellis in Sacramento, and has been the top salesperson, nationally, on several occasions for the firm.
Construction work began two days after the May 22 graduation ceremonies, and the grass, top levels of dirt and goal posts have already been removed as part of the site preparation.
When the Tommie football players report for fall practice in mid-August, the new FieldTurf product will be in place. A resurfacing of the eight-lane outdoor track also is part of the project. The field will be named Palmer Field and the facility will still be known as O’Shaughnessy Stadium.
"My son played on a FieldTurf surface in Utah and was impressed with it," Bill Palmer said in a May interview with the Aquin student newspaper. "Our family made this donation in the spirit of advancing the St. Thomas athletic program. We also wanted recruits to be enticed to come to St. Thomas by seeing how phenomenal the facility will be. It’s going to be amazing."
St. Thomas joins nearly 1,000 worldwide sites where FieldTurf is in use or being installed, including the Metrodome and Wayzata High School locally; 19 NFL game or practice facilities; and NCAA Division I game or practice facilities at Nebraska, Michigan, Penn State, Southern Cal, Washington, Wisconsin, Missouri, Georgia, Brigham Young and Pittsburgh.
Besides the Tommies’ 2004 varsity and junior-varsity football games, the field will also be used by St. Paul’s Cretin-Derham Hall for at least four home games this fall beginning Sept. 3 vs. St. Thomas Academy. The Tommies will play their first game at Palmer Field on Sept. 18 when they host Concordia-Moorhead.
FieldTurf features synthetic blades of grass over a sand and rubber infill. The product was installed at the University of Nebraska’s practice field in early 1999, and the rave reviews from players and coaches prompted the Huskers to install it that summer in Memorial Stadium, one year ahead of the scheduled replacement for the former artificial turf. Its worldwide popularity has mushroomed in the five years since.
The first generation of artificial turf was a carpet installed over padding, and knee injuries were common. Nebraska saw its knee injuries drop from more than two dozen in the year before its installation to a few since the new surface was installed. The sand and rubber allows for excellent drainage, too, which allows for play and practice in heavy rain.
Besides safety, drainage and the ability to showcase team speed, a big plus will be the versatility the field allows. With the lights already in the stadium, Tommie varsity and club teams and intramurals and physical education classes will be able to play and practice on the field from early morning through late at night.
"We’ll go from a situation where we have tried to keep people off the field to now trying to get as many people and groups onto the field to use it," Tommie football coach Don Roney said. "It will be great for all St. Thomas students to help alleviate a shortage of recreation space on campus."
St. Thomas is also studying the prospect of installing FieldTurf to its baseball diamond and softball/soccer field, which would provide added flexibility for recreation.
Two other MIAC institutions have artificial turf. St. John’s has played on a different product, SprintTurf, for two seasons and Augsburg will upgrade its aged Astroturf in 2004 to SprintTurf.