KINNELON - Something looked unusual as cars zipped by the Kinnelon High school football field on Friday night. It wasn't just that the Colts were back in action, hosting Shabazz.
The field was a little bouncy, the lights a bit brighter. It was almost all new.
Thanks to an anonymous alumni family donation, Kinnelon finally debuted its much anticipated "Field of Dreams" in a 20-0 loss to Shabazz on Friday night.
It was the culmination of decades of effort, and so many false starts.
"It changed everything," longtime Kinnelon coach Kevin White said. "The kids had to use their imagination with the yard markers. ... Now, you have numbers on the field. You have lines. You have hashmarks. You have goalposts to work off. It really is a huge, huge, huge difference."
The project cost "a little over $2 million," according to outgoing Kinnelon athletic director Scott Rosenberg. Construction started in the spring, setting up the foundation and drainage before laying out the artificial surface. Rosenberg said Kinnelon got "the platinum-level product," with tan organic fill made of olive pits instead of black recycled rubber.
On Friday night, the poles glowed green — Kinnelon's school color — as the lights flashed rhythmically during halftime. The Colts now have the ability to use multiple colors and patterns, with a touchdown celebration already pre-programed.
Kinnelon also added a new entranceway and ticket booths.
"We go from just about the worst field in the county to what I'll say is the best," said Rosenberg, who played soccer at Morris Hills.
Butler is the only Morris County high school which does not have an artificial turf field, playing football, soccer and field hockey on Memorial Field in the fall.
Kinnelon's soccer teams practice and play on grass at Pearl Miller Middle School. But there are plans to share the new surface, including with rec teams. The high school track will be open to the community until 9:30 p.m. every night.
"When it was grass, the grass was a lot longer," said 10-year-old Ethan Hertzberg, whose Kinnelon Junior Colts team played a preseason game on the turf Thursday. "It makes it better to run when it's shorter. It feels like you're floating on air because it's new."
Check out photos of the new facility, then scroll down for the rest of the story.
Kinnelon superintendent Diane DiGiuseppe anticipated the field would save the school district money in the long run. Even after poor weather, like Tropical Storm Ida earlier this week, the Colts will no longer have to rent turf at other facilities and get bused to practice. Maintenance will also be less costly than re-sodding the natural grass surface every other year.
The project isn't complete yet. Kinnelon plans to replace its bleachers and press box after the fall season ends, and install a golf training area.
"It's really good for the school and the town. It helps your athletic program deal with weather. It's a selling point for kids to get involved with sports from a younger age, when you see facilities go up and change."
Kinnelon was one of the first Morris County high schools to play under the famed "Friday Night Lights." Back in 1974, the school got wooden telephone poles adorned with lights pulled down during Yankee Stadium's renovation.
But an artificial field remained elusive.
In the mid-1990s, athletic director John ByDook raised more than $100,000 in donations when he was athletic director, but the project stalled. Multiple referendums from both the Borough and the Board of Education failed at the ballot box. An appeal to the New York Giants, who had funded similar facilities at other schools, was a non-starter because Kinnelon did not have a 501c3 foundation in place.
"I did not believe in my lifetime here in Kinnelon, I was going to see a turf field," said DiGiuseppe, who has worked in the district since November 2008.
"It has been a really long time and a lot of roadblocks. ... As you drive by the high school, for years we had a beautiful track, and this field that was in poor condition. Kinnelon doesn't have a town center, so the school and the library are that focal point, and it looks really nice."