WALLA WALLA, Wash. -- Whitman College will dedicate its new athletic fields this Saturday, Sept. 22, against the backdrop of two varsity soccer games.
The new fields are located next to DeSales High School at the end of Penrose Street, about three blocks north of Isaacs Avenue and the Whitman campus.
Dedication ceremonies will start at about 2 p.m., immediately following a women's soccer game between Whitman and Willamette University. A men's soccer game between the two schools will follow the ceremonies.
In addition to the varsity soccer field, the complex has a softball field and additional fields used for soccer practice and a variety of intramural and club sports.
Improvements made to the site in recent months include underground drainage, irrigation and fertilization systems, relocated light poles for the varsity soccer field, parking lot space for 100-plus vehicles, and renovated restroom and storage facilities.
The varsity soccer field, complemented by the adjacent practice fields, is a definite boon for Whitman's intercollegiate soccer programs, according to Whitman soccer coaches Scott Shields (women) and Mike Washington (men).
"This gives us the best soccer complex in our conference," Shields said. "It is comparable, in fact, to what a lot of the NCAA Division I schools have. There's no question this new facility gives us a recruiting edge within our conference. Student-athletes who take soccer seriously will want to practice and play on these fields."
The new varsity field, located on the east end of the site, measures 80 yards wide by 120 yards long, which is the largest dimension allowed in collegiate soccer. The playing surface runs north and south.
"The most important part of the field is the drainage system," Shields said. "Because the field drains properly when it rains, the turf should seldom if ever be a problem. Teams can maintain a higher level of play in poor weather, and there will be less chance that players will hurt their knees or ankles by slipping in the mud or loose turf."
The actual playing surface sits atop 12 inches of sand and an underlying system of perforated drainage pipes that run lengthwise on the field, about 10 feet apart, notes Dan Park, director of Whitman's physical plant. The pipes, blanketed with landscaping cloth and buried in pea gravel, help carry water to a city storm drain at the north end of the complex.
The two practice fields, which have the same dimensions as the varsity field but run east and west, have similar but less expensive drainage systems. The turf covering those fields sits on top of 10 inches of sand, and the drainage pipes are set 20 feet apart.
"The drainage systems worked tremendously well last winter," Park said. "In the past, that entire area was essentially a bog during the winter months. It was basically not usable for part of the year."
Varsity soccer players are not the only Whitman students who stand to benefit from the new complex. The new fields, according to athletic director Travis Feezell, bring welcome relief and elbow room to Whitman's overall athletic program. "It's been one, long nightmare in recent years trying to find adequate practice and playing space, not just for the varsity soccer teams, but for club sports like lacrosse, rugby and ultimate frisbee, as well as for all of our intramual sports. A very large percentage of our students are involved in these athletic programs, and these new fields benefit them all."
Whitman's intramural softball teams have already started to use the softball field that was preserved and upgraded at the west end of the site. That field has lights and an electronic scoreboard. "We've been approached by students who want to make softball into a women's club sport on campus," Feezell said.
Whitman's varsity soccer teams may eventually schedule a few non-conference night games, Shields said. "What's most beneficial about having one lighted field is the flexibility it gives us for practice times, especially late in the fall when the days are so short."
Whitman purchased the 17-acre site from the City of Walla Walla a year and a half ago and began making improvements. Ceremonies planned for this Saturday will include a plaque re-dedicating the area to veterans of past wars. At one point the site was part of city- owned land that includes the nearby Veterans Memorial Golf Course.