Rhea County will be the first public school in southeast Tennessee to play its home football games on artificial turf.
As part of major construction on the Evensville campus, including the building of a new high school, Rhea County will have a new track encompassing an Astroturf playing surface.
"It's construction so I don't know that they'll be on time, but the deadline is July 30, so it should be ready before the season starts," Golden Eagles football coach Doug Greene said.
With the current high school being converted to a middle school and the new school going up behind the existing buildings, Rhea County felt a need to upgrade the football facility because of increased demand for use.
"That's the whole reason," county schools superintendent Jerry Levengood said. "We'll have joint facilities for athletics, and use on the [football] field was problematic. We knew we'd have middle and high school football and soccer teams and bands for both, plus ROTC, so we looked into the possibility of an artificial surface."
The new field, Levengood estimates, should save the school system somewhere in the neighborhood of $17,000 annually with the elimination of fertilization, mowing, watering and painting. He anticipates the upgrades will allow the Golden Eagles to expand their track program.
"Rhea County hasn't hosted a track meet since 1985," he said. "What we had was asphalt, which is just like running on the highway. Track is one of the biggest programs we've had, with close to 70 participants competing each year."
In the Chattanooga area, Rhea County will join Baylor, McCallie, Gordon Lee, Ringgold, Ridgeland and Calhoun as schools with artificial turf.
Greene is happy to be in the group.
"The first plus is that we have a facility that can be used in all weather conditions. We won't have to worry, either, about practicing in the mud on rainy days," he said. "The track is a big plus because it should allow us to get more kids involved in athletics in general. It will be a showplace that folks in Rhea County can be proud of."
The turf, which is being placed by the same Dalton company that put in fields for Baylor and McCallie, is the same basic design as that used in several NFL stadiums and major league baseball stadiums.
Fiber for the turf is made by TenCate, a Dayton business.
"We borrowed $1 million to build the facility, and we have also received and continue to receive some donations from businesses in the community," Levengood said. "The actual estimated cost is $967,000, but it wasn't just the fact that Rhea County decided it needed a new football field so much as the use it was going to get."
Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...