Deb Leahy keeps hundreds of photos stored on her iPhone, most of which disappear from memory after the moment is captured.
But a photo from last year of a duck staring at a newly formed pond still catches her eye whenever she decides to scroll through the album. For the duck, standing water covering one of Memorial Field’s grass fields became a new swimming hole where athletes should have run.
That’s why Leahy took the shot of the soggy field.
“We’re pretty well known for our substandard facilities,” said the mother of two boys and president of Concord High’s lacrosse booster club. “We often talk about it and I think it’s a bad reflection of the capital.”
This is the reality of Concord’s various outdoor sports teams. At any time of year, the ability to simply play a game or even work out is threatened by the elements – especially in spring – as water-soaked grass fields can be torn apart by a rush. of studs in minutes. The frustration continues to build as another game has to be postponed — like last Tuesday’s men’s lacrosse game — or a game has to be moved to another location — like Wednesday’s varsity softball game.
Artificial turf fields have been constructed in communities across the state in Bedford, Nashua, Manchester, Hollis-Brookline and Laconia to name a few. Bow wanted to build on those years, but the proposal was defeated in the town hall. The lack of a grass pitch at Concord sparks a lot of conversations between parents, players and coaches, especially when it’s raining.
In the summer of 2021, an unusual amount of rain shut down the city’s fields for an extended period. During the recent fall sports season, practice for several sports, including soccer, football and field hockey, have all been moved indoors at one time or another.
Now, in this spring season, the conversation has come back to the fore after the last dark and wet day. April 19 brought the first wave of postponements and cancellations of outdoor sporting events, and with those postponements resurfaced the question – will Concord build a grass pitch?
“There is a need in the community, but there is also the financial responsibility that the city council and the city manager have to take on all the different priorities of the city,” said David Gill, director of parks and recreation for the city. “I’m pretty confident everyone understands the need for a grass pitch at Concord, but it comes down to priorities.”
The city has a plan on the table to build a turf field in the next phase of Terrill Park improvements. The first phase, which was completed in October 2020, involved moving the original dog park to its current location, as the original location would have been in the middle of the future land.
It also included a new parking lot and a completed section of the Merrimack River Greenway trail.
While the plan has been approved, it is funding that remains the struggle. Sod fields cost an average of over a million dollars to install, from shovel to tape cutting. Since this particular field would be right along the Merrimack River, those pesky little black beads commonly associated with grass fields will be replaced with a more natural resource like sand or another natural material, which could increase the cost.
This plan uses land in the city, which is located far from the high school and the middle school in the city.
“If and when that happens, I assume there will be a usage discussion, but the school district is not involved in that,” said Concord School District business administrator Jack Dunn.
Dunn said the district is aware of the community’s interest in a sod field, but building a new Rundlett Middle School project is currently the district’s primary focus. Some have speculated that a grass pitch could be built on the land where the new school will be built, but according to Dunn, that’s still a long way off.
For some long-time sports fans in the community, Concord has lost its place as a go-to destination during tournaments in the fall and spring. Instead of hosting league games, Concord teams take the bus to places with better pitches.
“It’s not even thought that (Concord) would host anything here for a tournament game,” Leahy said. “I don’t even think there are people who remember tournament games being held here.”
Leahy and her husband Matt have nearly completed their tenure as parents with children in the Concord school system. Their two sons played sports year-round and used city facilities at various parks, including Memorial Field, Rollins Park, and White Park. While facility appreciation is near and dear, the reality is that families continue to hope that the next generation of athletes can play on an outdoor surface on the rainiest days without hesitation.
It’s not just the parents of former, current and future athletes in the capital who keep wondering about the potential field. Coaches constantly feel the allure that comes with being a major powerhouse in New Hampshire high school athletics that lacks the resources of other communities.
“Being the fourth-best team in the state of New Hampshire and you can’t even put together a playoff game at home is kind of frustrating, especially for girls who work every day,” said Andrew Mattarazzo, the college girls. ‘ football coach for Concord High. “People would ask me ‘How do you do that? Why do you do that?’ and it’s for the benefit of the game to make it more of a clean game, but at the same time you’d rather play Concord where you’d have more support and fans because it’s local.
It’s both the burden and the blessing of coaching a team that’s forced to brave the elements. The Crimson Tide finished the season last fall at 13-3 and were the fourth seed in the Division I tournament, earning them home-court advantage through to the semi-finals. But rather than play at Memorial Field, a rain storm forced the game against Dover to be played at Bank of New Hampshire Stadium in Laconia.
Crimson Tide college football coach Jim Corkum said the weather forced the team to move some practices inside the Concord Sports Center. The facility has a small in-bounds grass pitch which has served its purpose for a roster of over 40 players. While the lack of a grass pitch didn’t hurt attendance, Corkum said the benefits of having one are obvious.
“Kids who love their sport will keep playing whether they play on grass or grass,” he said. “But that being said, a grass pitch does provide some amenities that you don’t necessarily get with a grass pitch in terms of being able to extend seasons and even do things in the winter.”
Besides the effect on athletics, a grass field would encourage more families to visit Concord from across the state, according to Mattarazzo.
“Another thing he can do, if a grass pitch is put in Concord, you can host NHIAA events that will bring people to central New Hampshire,” he said. “Being more centralized with a grass pitch in the state of New Hampshire will definitely benefit the city. It will bring people here, it will bring revenue to local businesses, it will bring revenue to the town of Concord so people can rent the land.
“I think it’s something that can rebuild Concord’s reputation,” he added.