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Esko takes to turf - when weather allows

Esko boys track team members do one last slow sprint during track practicing in the rain/snow mix on the new turf field Tuesday afternoon. Coach Gary Beaudot likes the new field as it is easier to run on and not as hard. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal 1 / 2
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Esko’s Ben Haugen admitted that once he got official permission to use his school’s newly-installed stadium turf last month, the baseball coach and his team — along with the track and softball squads — sprinted for a spot.

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“We all made a mad dash out there,” recalled Haugen.

Haugen said in order to play on the $400,000 surface of SprinTurf — completed during last fall’s football season — he and fellow spring coaches had to wait for all of winter’s snow to clear and then get custodial approval to play on it.

But in a spring season where outdoor play has been limited due to relentlessly bad weather, Haugen noted the soft, rubber-pellet constructed turf has been nice to practice on. For their several occasions utilizing the field, it offered the much-needed space to simulate a full-sized infield and space to chase fly balls.

“From back of end zone to back of end zone it’s 360 feet — plenty of room,” said Haugen, in his eighth year coaching the Eskomos. “We have been out there two or three times.”

Esko Athletic Director Chad Stoskopf, like many, is running out of time to reschedule games. Although Monday he said the stadium — built thanks to a $2.7 million referendum in addition to the money that was fundraised to pay for the turf field — will not be used to host baseball and softball games this spring.

“If we have another spring like this,” said Stoskopf, during Monday night’s ice storm, “maybe we’ll consider it.”

With the turf, Stoskopf said there is “no frost, no worms and no night crawlers” to worry about, compared to a natural outdoor diamond, and snow clears off much quicker. Stoskopf said to have such a venue — the only turf field in Carlton County — has been an advantage.

Cloquet Athletic Director Tom Lenarz used the turf to his football team’s advantage last fall, practicing on the surface the week before participating in the state tournament.

“It’s a really nice facility,” Lenarz said.

Like Stoskopf, who has sent the Esko baseball team to Nevis and both the softball and track teams to Austin for action, Lenarz, too, has bussed the Lumberjacks baseball team to St. Francis and the track and softball squads to Rockford and Pine City in a statewide search for games.

“You have to be willing to send them wherever,” said Lenarz. “Six to seven weeks in the gym is just impossible.”

Although seemingly impossible to get in all of the games, Stoskopf said his rescheduling system — like many — begins with needed conference events, while also honoring agreed-upon contracts with other schools. Still hopeful, Stoskopf said a year ago, May 7 was the first day of games.

“It’s been bad, tough for the kids — I feel bad,” Stoskopf said. “Mother Nature hasn’t been too good to us.”

“She’s really been taking some swings,” added second-year Carlton Athletic Director Ryan Schmidt Monday night.

Schmidt, also the Bulldogs baseball coach, was unable to practice Monday, but has been creative in scheduling, sending both ball squads to Fridley last week, while the track team has also been at the University of Wisconsin-Superior.

Speaking of track, Cromwell-Wright Coach and Athletic Director Dave Foster had his kids running Monday evening.

“It was 34 degrees, 30-mile-per-hour winds and it was hailing on them, but you have to keep going,” said Foster, one of the few ADs that hasn’t lost much sleep rescheduling. Their softball team even played Monday at Grand Marais.

In Barnum, their baseball team hasn’t played yet, according Athletic Director Dave Duesler. Duesler said a Polar League scheduling meeting is set for Saturday in Cloquet.

“We’ll have some more changes to do,” Duesler said.

While the Cloquet track and field team has seen action away from home, mostly indoors, the Cloquet track has yet to be used for a meet this season. Coach Tim Prosen said  not all the lanes are usable at the moment — it’s not only streets that get potholes, apparently — but they’re hoping to patch the track enough to get them through the season.

At a March 24 meeting of the Cloquet School Board, board members gave administration permission to pursue bids to resurface the track, which was built in the early 1990s but is now showing substantial signs of wear.

“Parts of the track are coming up,” CHS Principal Warren Peterson told the board. “The track can’t be used the way it is now. It’s falling apart and it will have to be taken care of.”

Total costs for repairs could run as high as $80,000.

Peterson told the board that sections of the rubberized portion of the track are separating from the concrete base to which it is ordinarily fastened.

“The stuff is peeling off in clumps,” he said. “You can’t run a meet on it.”

The track, which was laid down almost 25 years ago, needs to be pulled up and relaid with a new surface.

There is one more touch to be added to the Esko track: A new surface is set to be laid around the turf field, once the temperature climbs over 50 degrees consistently.

“That might be June or July,” Stoskopf said with a laugh.