Former Bettendorf football standout Steve McCall stepped onto Mervin R. Habenicht Field at TouVelle Stadium on Friday for the first time since his days as a Bulldog in the late 1980s.
The former first-team all-state defensive tackle noticed a big difference peering out over the synthetic-turf pitch that was recently installed during a $3.25 million renovation.
Standing near the 15-yard line at the west end of the stadium, McCall recalled one memory from his playing days, and “you can probably guess what it is,” he said with a smile.
Battling Pleasant Valley in the first round of the Class 4A playoffs in 1987, “I remember on the 15-yard line sacking their quarterback,” he said. “It’s almost like you can reach back and relive those days.”
The updated facility will be unveiled to the public at 6 p.m. Thursday before the Bulldogs take the new field for their home-opener Friday night against Iowa City High School.
The facility’s first renovation since it was built in 1981 replaced the stadium’s grass with synthetic turf, reconfigured the eight-lane track and installed a new and brighter lighting system. Other projects included a new ticket booth and entry plaza and renovations to the home-side concessions and restrooms.
“There's a history here, so we wanted to do things right, and we feel like this is a premier facility,” high school athletic director Kevin Skillett said. “I imagine it’s going to look a little different out here Friday night.”
Physical Plant and Equipment Levy, or PPEL, and the 1 percent local-option sales tax funded the project.
Head football coach Aaron Wiley said new turf is something his team has needed for quite some time.
“I don’t know how many days over the years we’ve had to cancel practice or go inside to the gym during a rainy day,” he said. “Now, you won’t even notice if it’s wet.”
Since the project's start date last spring disrupted high school spring track and field season, Bettendorf's track and soccer teams practiced on Pleasant Valley High School's track for the remainder of their seasons.
"They were great neighbors for us," Skillett said.
Stepping onto the new field for the first time Friday, Bettendorf’s marching band director Mike Dynes said the stadium is something that will bring the entire Bettendorf community together.
“I like that it’s a little cushiony,” said Dynes, adding his 130-member band will be practicing on the filed multiple times each week this fall. “In terms of developing marching technique, this is the surface to do it on, and it will be nice to rehearse on the surface we’ll be on for competition.”
Wiley said his team will not play a single game this year on grass.
The boys and girls soccer teams will no longer have to worry about canceled or postponed games because of field conditions, and physical education classes will also use the facility throughout the year.
“It really is a community field,” Skillett added.
Construction crews were scheduled to put the finishing touches on the black-and-gold track Tuesday to match the "Bett" and Bulldog logos scattered across the field.
McCall, who helped lead the Bulldogs to a 38-13 victory over Pleasant Valley in the 1987 playoff game and an eventual undefeated year under coach Habenicht, said the former grass field would be completely torn up at the end of each season.
“There's such a legacy, so when you come back here to your home, it’s very meaningful,” McCall said. “I hope these guys can really appreciate what they have got going for them here.”