When Mike Elliott was a Madison Edgewood High School sophomore in 1975, he was involved in the renovation of the school’s current football practice facility on Monroe Street.
Today, Elliott is the school’s president. And he has been tasked with shepherding a new project that reflects the beginning of an exciting era on the school’s campus.
Edgewood High School will break ground today on a $1.5 million outdoor athletic complex, made possible by a $1.025 million gift from the Goodman Foundation. The project’s funding will be completed through major gifts from Edgewood families and their associated foundations.
“My sophomore year at Edgewood, I laid the sod on that field for a major renovation — when we were just getting nice grass, compared to the dirt hole that it was,” Elliott said with a laugh during a phone conversation last week. “So I find it to be very rewarding that, in my sophomore year of serving as president, (we will) have new turf.”
The renovation of the current facility will be named the Irwin A. & Robert D. Goodman Athletic Complex. It will provide cutting-edge running surfaces for track-and-field training as well as state-of-the-art artificial turf for outdoor sports, including football, baseball, softball, soccer, track and field, lacrosse and ultimate Frisbee.
“The plan is to start (today) and (to work toward) the turf portion of the plan to be completed by Aug. 14,” Edgewood athletic director Chris Zwettler said. “The track portion is scheduled to be completed by Labor Day or shortly after.”
Because the Goodmans themselves were excellent athletes in track and baseball, and because this complex will serve many ages, Elliott said they would have had taken pride in the project.
“It’s been a goal and a dream for a lot of students and alumni to put together something that was more representative of Edgewood than what we had out there,” said Elliott, a 1977 Edgewood graduate. “When I became president, it was one of the things I wanted to focus on.”
E.G. Schramka, executive director of the Goodman Foundation, said the foundation was proud to step in as Edgewood’s key partner in the project.
“At the University of Minnesota, Irwin Goodman was a track star. And Irwin and his brother Bob throughout their lifetimes had a passion for physical activity,” Schramka said. “This complex will continue their legacy by being a community-wide venue that will serve all of Madison, from children to seniors, through games, camps and other activities.”
Other major project sponsors are the Wahlin Foundation Inc., Park Bank, the Heggenbarth and Senty families, Jerry and Carol Kelly and an anonymous Edgewood family, with additional support provided by Kevin and Sheila Conroy.
“This is a game-changer for Edgewood and the Madison community,” Elliott said. “Our students will benefit greatly, with the best possible conditions to train and compete on. It will allow us to hold many more of our practices on campus. In addition, neighbors and members of all ages in Madison will benefit because of our commitment to the community and our central location.”
Many sports can play
Zwettler said the central artificial turf area’s full length will hold competition fields for football, soccer, lacrosse and softball. The width can be divided into three 50-yard practice fields, allowing different teams or sports to practice at once.
“It will start with the installation of AstroTurf, the same turf that will be installed at Michigan State and Ohio State this summer,” he said.
Elliott noted that one of the main benefits will be improvements in the practice facilities for the school’s baseball and softball programs in the spring, when teams are forced to practice indoors. He added that the renovation will be a boon to all the students.
“We do require four years of physical education for both semesters, which is higher than the national average and higher than the national requirement,” Elliott said. “This is a much-needed product for our students, to aid our physical education department and the athletic programs.”
The track area will allow high school, college and area youth athletes to benefit from the engineered running surface. In the past, Edgewood has provided its track-and-field facility to area parochial schools for practices and an annual meet — the only early track-and-field development experience for many grade-school students.
However, due to the deterioration of the track, the event has been held off-campus in recent years.
“It will be the best situation you can imagine,” said Edgewood girls track-and-field coach Gary Thornton, a coach at the school since 1981. “We stopped competing here in 2006; that’s when the track fell apart. We’ve been using Middleton for the two conference meets that we hosted in 2009 and 2015, and all of our duals were at Monona Grove.
“Our grade-school invitational (was) moved to Monona Grove, and this year it was in Middleton. So even the little kids will be able to come back here.”
Zwettler said the project is being managed by the Rettler Corporation, based in Stevens Point.
“They are famous throughout Wisconsin and the Midwest. They bid the jobs to be done,” he said. “They contact the turf people and the track people and the goal-post people, etc. They supervise and are the project manager of the building of the project. They will bid out and sub-contract all the work.”
Thornton said the improved running surface also would allow the school to once again partner with groups such as the Madison Westside Track Club. The facility also will provide a safe, walking surface for neighborhood residents to use for fitness walking and jogging.
“West High School already has asked about being able to practice here,” Zwettler said. “They spend about $20,000 (per season) to bus their kids out to Mansfield Stadium for practice during the track season.”
According to Elliott, the project has received the support of area neighborhood groups that have balked in the past at the idea of turning the facility into a competition site for Edgewood’s many athletic programs.
“We’re between two neighborhood associations. They have been vehemently opposed to us having lights or playing games here,” he said. “We’re really building this to be able to give our athletes the practice facilities that provide the best surfaces possible and to expand the amount of outdoor practices we can hold especially in the spring. That is our focal point.”
Zwettler said the football team will continue to play home games at Breitenbach Stadium at Middleton High School, and the Crusaders boys and girls soccer teams will play home games at the Reddan Soccer Complex in Verona.
“For soccer, we made a commitment of $100,000 three years ago. That’s a 10-year deal. Soccer-wise, we have been spending about $18,000 annually the last few years on a rental facility, transportation, etc., to have our soccer teams go to play and practice. The goal is to keep as many kids on campus as possible.
“Edgewood also contributed $200,000 to help with the installation of the FieldTurf surface in Middleton, and we start our ninth year (of a 10-year contract) there in August. The field is still playable and is still safe, but they will probably need to replace it in the next two to three years.”
Although Breitenbach Stadium gives the Crusaders football team a stellar site for home games, coach Al Minnaert said a new practice field is long overdue.
“That will give us a better place to practice. The field we have now gets in really bad shape quickly,” he said. The field was last renovated in 1997. “Getting the (artificial) turf has always been my dream.”
Middleton’s field was the first in the area to install an artificial surface, in 2007. Madison’s Breese Stevens Field recently converted to artificial turf and will be the site of home games for Madison East, starting this fall. Edgewood also will use Breese Stevens for the first week of practice, beginning Aug. 7
“Middleton has been great. It’s not the perfect situation, but I couldn’t ask anything more of (Cardinals football coach) Tim Simon’s cooperation,” Minnaert said.
Hope springs eternal
Elliott, who was able to compete on both the golf and baseball teams at the same time while he attended Edgewood, is familiar with the challenges of competing in a spring sport in Wisconsin.
“The weather was like this back then,” he said, making a reference to heavy rains that played havoc with last week’s WIAA state softball tournament at the Goodman Diamond. “That’s why we want to create this complex, because it’s always going to be a problem. It’s just crazy here.
“We’ve had some good success with our school with athletics,” he said. “It’s amazing what they have been able to accomplish with some of the conditions.
“Our goal is to eventually have the best facility in the city with regard to the school and athletics and drama and everything,” Elliott said. “So this is a great step in the right direction, and one that is very visible.”