As football players in Saskatoon gear up for a brand new season, they don't have to prepare their bodies and minds for a full season on a muddy, concrete-like field.
The field formerly known as Gordie Howe Bowl already feels a lot different. Crews have been hard at work upgrading the field since Walter Murray and Holy Cross played the final game on Gordie Howe's infamous grass in November.
Now known as Saskatoon Minor Football Field, the new turf and scoreboard are almost ready for action.
The $11 million project is all the result of the of people like the Johnny Marciniuk, one of the founders of the Friends of the Bowl Foundation. Marciniuk said he'll never forget the first time he saw the brand new turf field. It was done with synthetic materials manufactured by the company, FieldTurf.
"It was really overwhelming, I had tears in my eyes," Marciniuk said. "To see green on the field and to get an email on Friday that the base had been accepted and was top notch according to FieldTurf was superb."
The new turf could increase the annual usage of the field by nearly 1,500 hours.
For Jeff Yausie, Gordie Howe Bowl is like a home away from home. Yausie, executive director of Football Saskatchewan and a coach with the Saskatoon Hilltops, has spent decades playing and coaching at the historic field.
"We've been growing like crazy since 2000," Yausie said. "So there's lots of kids that want to play. What it will mean is that we don't have to alter our schedules and we can hold major events."
The first phase of upgrades — which also include new lights and a sound system — will cost about $4.2 million.
The field will not be ready for the Saskatoon Hilltops home opener on Sunday, Aug. 24. Instead, the Hilltops will host the Edmonton Huskies at Griffiths Stadium.
“My middle linebacker (Justin Filteau) who is (CJFL) player of the week is down there cutting turf out there right now,” Yausie said. “So he was just excited to be involved and to be volunteering for the last four or five days. The players are going to be excited.”
Marciniuk said the first game played on the new field will be Sept. 6 when the Hilltops host the Regina Thunder.
New field, new uniforms
While safety was one major reason to replace Gordie Howe Bowl's grass field, Marciniuk said the new turf is also having an impact on high school uniforms. He said a number of high school in the city were eager to order white uniforms.
“Now that we're on turf, they won't have to deal with alkali, adding to their detergent to wash their pants and they'll have some white pants,” Marciniuk said. “That gives us an opportunity to change up our uniforms and things like that. If you've ever been here on a rainy day, you almost have to sell your uniforms for scraps. It's going to be awesome.”