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With no turf, Merrimack High sports still stuck in mud

Merrimack High School girls lacrosse coach Sarah Rothhaus was a happy camper on Friday.

Her Tomahawks had survived a tough, highly competetive and, for girls lacrosse, physical overtime battle with Nashua South on Friday at Stellos

Stadium.

She was happy with the win, but also the fact that the Tomahawks looked completely different than earlier in the week when they were smacked in the mouth in their season opener vs. Exeter by a 13-3 tally.

“We hadn’t had a field yet,” Rothhaus said. “Our first time on a field was (that) game time. That first game was our first time on a field since off-season.”

Exeter, of course, didn’t have that issue. The nice Bill Ball Stadium, a Stellos clone, was there for the Blue Hawks to enjoy since practice began in March.

But it’s nothing new to anyone wearing Tomahawk blue. They’ve had to make more with less for years. Today is supposed to be another rainy Monday, and athletic director Mike Soucy will be phoning, texting and emailing to maneuver the schedule around after postponements. In fact, Sunday he already called off baseball for today.

But the school made a try last week to get more so they could do more, asking town voters to approve $1.2 million to turn the soaked sod and mud of Student Memorial Field into a nice, new, Stellos-Exeter type turf field. It got shot down.

That’s too bad. Anyone who was at the high school football playoff game between the ‘Hawks and Nashua North last early November saw how bad the field at Merrimack had deteriorated, to the point that two potent offenses couldn’t score until starting at the 10-yard-line in overtime.

The Titans had offered to play the game at Stellos, but Merrimack players said no way, and coach Kip Jackson talked afterward how the program and its fans deserved the home game. No argument here. But you can bet coaches were holding their breath that no injuries occurred.

It was the kind of muddy mess that occurred in the 1997 state title football game at Holman Stadium. that signaled the beginning of the city of Nashua to envision a Stellos Stadium.

But the time is coming for Merrimack to realize something must be done. The athletic deparement wasn’t in mourning the day after the vote; Soucy knows that this was just a swing and a miss. More pitches are coming.

“You know, I don’t know that you could say we were disappointed, we half expected it,” he said. “It takes two or three go-rounds to get some traction and get support. Until then, we’ll do what we always do, try to make the best of it.”

The fields for all outdoor sports at the high school are, well, not the greatest because they don’t drain very well. Just about every spring for the first few weeks home games have to be played at the visiting team’s fields.

But Soucy has to be very careful in managing Student Memorial, so much so the team’s boys and girls soccer games for the first half of the season are played in Bedford at the GPS Complex’s turf fields. “If we played everything on that one field, it would be destroyed by the end of September,” Soucy said. “They’ve (GPS) been tremendous to us. But you do have to note that we have to go to another town to play our games.”

The cost to rent fields are about $15,000, Soucy said. So those dollars aren’t the reason you’d build it. But, as Soucy noted, Merrimack could be in position to rent its own field out down the road, helping to fund the facility.

The solution? Turf field supporters would be better equipped if they were able to do what’s been done in other spots – find a financial donor or some type of corporate sponsor. The ol’ naming rights thing. Another like the late Jim Stellos or still big time soccer guy like John Motta (remember, it is Motta Field at Stellos Stadium). See if you can cut that $1.2 million by a third, or even half.

Turf fields are costly but they can also be cash cows, especially for private institutions. Presentation of Mary has one, for crying out loud, and its AD Ken Belin’s eyes light up anytime a request comes in for field use/rental. Rivier is renovating its facility and has opened it up to the community.

Look, we don’t have to really spell out the benefits. Heck, even the Patriots made the switch over a decade or so ago. But they are great in the public sector too, allowing for some creativity. Nashua schools and at Souhegan, spring teams were able to practice, even baseball softball, using the turf field. Manchester West and Memorial have turf fields. And they have an advantage over Nashua, as three schools use Stellos.

“Even as great as the stadium is, I’m kind of envious of the people who have it out their back door,” Nashua athletic director Lisa

Gingras said.

“But absolutely, this spring, being able to be out here on Day One, with baseball, softball and lacrosse – you can play in weather you wouldn’t be able to play in on grass.”

Surprisingly, Pinkerton Academy with its vast campus doesn’t have a turf field, and its football/lacrosse field is in such bad shape that the Astros asked Bishop Guertin to host their huge boys lacrosse game between the two at Stellos on Tuesday night. You see, these fields are in great demand.

“It’s disappointing, but it’s just a matter of time, I think,” Rothhaus said. “My girls always adapt.”

Yes, the Merrimack motto – adapt, improvise, and overcome. It’s the overcome part that you hope will happen at some point down the road, sooner than later.

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