Esko citizen group tackles new turfThe all-volunteer Esko Turf Club is under a timeline to come up with a donations to the tune of $400,000 by Feb. 4 for artificial turf for the school's new sports field.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
Russ Davidson taught high school math at Esko for 35 years. And while he did all he could to support the district during those years, he admitted he didn’t have a whole lot of free time to volunteer. Now that he’s retired, he’s about to change all that.
“This is my time,” he stated.
And his “time” involves an effort he’s passionate about – heading up a citizen group to help raise the funds necessary to install artificial turf in the district’s soon-to-be constructed football/soccer field.
Davidson was initially involved with the Esko Pride group, formed last August to help pass an operational levy to help keep the district on pace with its current programming, as well as a $2.7 million facilities referendum to replace the district’s outdated and flood-damaged sports complex. After an earlier facilities referendum had failed to pass, Davidson said many folks felt the inclusion of artificial turf for the playing field could have resulted in the downfall of the referendum, due to the additional cost required.
“There were a number of people that were very outspoken about NOT including an artificial surface for the new soccer/football field [this time around],” he said. “Many of us felt this was the Achilles Heel which caused the last facilities referendum to fail three years ago. We wanted to see [this] facilities referendum pass, as our original football/soccer field was severely compromised with the June 2012 flood and we desperately needed a new facility.”
Both the operating referendum and the facilities referendum – including a grass turf on the playing field – were successfully passed last November. Davidson and many of his cronies then turned their sights toward accomplishing a new goal.
“Many of us looked at the research on synthetic turf and found compelling evidence that the third generation of this type of turf, when compared to grass turf, was safer for children and increased the usage by up to tenfold,” he explained. “Many of us have the vision that this field can be used by football, soccer, and the all youth groups as well as the community.”
And so, Davidson decided to step up to the plate and agreed to chair a group dubbed the Esko Turf Club. The group consists of about 30 community members, including key players Bob Thorton, Chad Stoskopf, Mark Sunnarborg, Jerry Maunu, Scott Antonutti, Len Robinson and Sandy Rengo. The group set about evaluating the merits of the turf and developing a rationale and methodology to make it viable for the district’s new sports field.
He then presented the group’s mission statement to the Esko School Board in mid-December. Board members unanimously approved the organization’s strategy to raise the necessary funds for the artificial turf through individual donations as well as revenue from business advertising signage at the field.
Now, the real work begins – and within a very tight time frame. The group is under a timeline to come up with a majority of the necessary $400,000 by Feb. 4.
“The Esko Turf Club must convince the school board we are making significant progress in raising the $400,000 by then,” said Davidson. “Our committee is working day and night to make sure we see our dream come true. We have a long ways to go, but with individual and business support we will get there. This is the Esko community field, and our goal is to enhance it with a synthetic turf that will not cost the taxpayers of Esko any money.”
The Esko Turf Club is also in the process of approaching numerous local and national corporations to supplement any tax-deductible individual, family and group pledges and donations they are able to secure.
Davidson pointed out the artificial surface being proposed is best for Esko for a number of various reasons.
“First, a turf field would better withstand more usage by the high school teams, as well as youth teams and community activities,” he said. “In the past, our grass field has accommodated about 20-25 activities per year on the grass field. Artificial turf will allow us to increase the usage to 25 games per week.”
He also stated that artificial turf provides a safer, more consistent playing surface that is resistant to northern Minnesota’s unpredictable weather. He added that the artificial surface will allow the Esko School District to save money on maintenance costs in the future.
If the group’s financial goal is met, the new field – slated to be built this spring/summer and ready for the fall 2013 sports season –will include the upgraded playing surface.
Davidson said he is optimistic that the group will meet its goal, and they have even gone so far as adapting a famous quote by Theodore Roosevelt as their motto: “Keep your eyes on the stars and your feet on the turf [ground].”
And though Davidson and his wife no longer have children in the district, he is unabashedly sentimental when he talks about his reasons for remaining involved.
“I love the Esko community as well as the surrounding area, and I was motivated to volunteer to get this done for the kids as well as for the entire community” he said. “Dr. Vopat did surgery to take out my gall bladder a number of years ago, and he told me that when he cut into me I bled blue and gold!”