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PALMYRA – First, it had too many student-athletes and not enough fields. Now, it has too many fields and not enough student-athletes.

OK, that may be a bit of an exageration. But you get the drift.

How about this? When this thing we call ‘COVID-19’ lifts -whenever that may be – Palmyra High School will be ready to hit the ground running.

Currently, the Cougars are placing all the finishing touches on two brand, spanking new turf playing fields. And while they’ve been a long time coming, they should be ready when local high school sports are.

“There’s definitely some speculation out there,” said Palmyra athletic director Brian Weidler, when asked exactly when Cougar student-athletes will be able to get on the new fields. “But the PIAA is definitely in it for the kids. They’re talking about a model that would include abbreviated seasons for each season (of the year). We don’t know what it’s going to look like in January.

“My heart breaks for our coaches who give so much of their time, and our kids who give so much effort to be the best that they can be,” continued Weidler. “We will control what we can control, and keep hope alive.”

The Cougars’ two new turf fields are certainly a sight to behold, and will be even more so when they are totally completed. They have transformed the look and feel of the entire Palmyra High School campus.

Construction of the $5.6 million turf-field project began in February, and it is expected to be finished on August 20, but the undertaking has been almost two decades in the making. Exactly when Palmyra will be able to put its two new fields to good use will ultimately be determined by the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Assocation.

“The initial plan was to turf Buck Swank Stadium (at Palmyra Middle School) and the middle school baseball field,” said Weidler. “But we could not get past a storm-water issue, and the conversation turned back to the high school, and we ended up here. Our kids now have the ability to walk out of the high school and onto the field. They aren’t getting into their cars and driving to In The Net (sports complex).

“You want to talk about aesthetic changes, it’s like ‘Wow’,” added Weidler. “You can’t help being amazed when you drive in this driveway.”

The OAL – Orthopedic Associates of Lancaster – Sports Complex, as it has been named, consists of two lighted, turf fields, one directly west of the main entrance, and one directly east of it. Both will serve as game and practice fields.

The east field, or Field One, has been named Belair Field and has been lined for soccer, lacrosse and football. Home football games will continued be to played at Buck Swank Stadium – along with track and field – but the new field will allow for football practices, as well as football games which don’t involve large audiences.

The west field, or Field Two, currently is un-named, but is designed to host home baseball and field hockey contests. The complex also includes restrooms, concession stands and a storage area.

“I think my favorite part of the whole thing is the opportunity we’re going to be able to afford our kids,” said Weidler. “To see them finally be able to have something that they can call ‘home’. In The Net was a great partnership, but we could never call it ‘home’.

“In the fall, you’d have four teams having practice situations,” Weidler continued. “We have lights, and we’re going to work collaboratively. Until we take care of our teams’ needs, this field isn’t going to available for rental. What we’re targeting is weekend-use (for outside groups) over the summer.”

For nearly the last decade, Palmyra had utilized nearby In The Net Sports Complex to stage home contests in field hockey, boys’ and girls’ soccer and boys’ and girls’ lacrosse. But hosting games on campus is just a better situation, all the way aroundd.

“In The Net became our crutch,” said Weidler. “There’s been a lot of field hockey success here and there’s really not one college not playing on a synthetic surface. If In The Net wouldn’t have been there, we would’ve had one turf field a long time ago. But one turf field becomes your game field, and if we had put one in, I’d say we’d still be renting In The Net.

“They’re (In The Net) great to work with,” Weidler added. “They’re going to continue to rent fields from us, and I’m sure we’re going to be knocking on their door for things.”

With its new sports complex, Palmyra has become just the second Lebanon County high school to offer on-campus turf fields, and the first to have two. When the Cougars take the field to play baseball, they will host the first-ever on-campus baseball games in Lebanon County to be played on turf.

“It’s been 18 years in the making,” said Weidler. “When I first started here (as athletic director) I was talking about the ‘T’ word. I understand that there’s a big price tag. In 2010, when we were close, we conducted a field study and it was determined we were 24 grass fields deficient. I am beyond elated for future Cougar athletes.

“Sometimes I need to pinch myself that this is now a reality,” continued Weidler. “It was a long process. It was all made possible by a lot of community members, but especially by our two superintendents.”

Weidler said that a significant portion of the project’s $5.6 million price tag was funded through sponsorships and donations. He also said that the new fields came with an eight-year waranty, and that some schools get ten to 15 years of use out of the turf, before having to replace it.

“I just want to thank those who made this possible for our student-athletes,” said Weidler. “We now have comparable facilites to our opponents. I’m just looking forward to seeing the impact it has on our future athletes. I’m most excited for our kids.

“Personally, I like the model of three abbreviated sports seasons (for re-starting scholastic sports),” added Weilder. “Having a state champion is icing on the cake. For me, at this point, I’m just about providing the opportunity for student-athletes.”

To purchase images in this article email jkfalk2005@yahoo.com.

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