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Prep notes: Sun Prairie's Ashley Field project stays on schedule for mid-August opening

Prep notes: Sun Prairie's Ashley Field project stays on schedule for mid-August opening

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A consistent routine has developed this spring for Sun Prairie athletic director Eric Nee’s family.

Amid work and online schooling, Nee, his wife Nicole and their three “miniature athletic directors” — 9-year-old Tenley, 7-year-old Tucker and 18-month-old Titus — regularly check out the construction progress at the newly named Bank of Sun Prairie Stadium at Ashley Field, which is being renovated near Cardinal Heights Upper Middle School in Sun Prairie.

The field is set to be used for football, soccer and lacrosse.

“It’s awesome,” Eric Nee said Tuesday. “We take field trips to the field. They want to see the progress. It’s become a family field trip through these weeks. I think (the new stadium) will be something very cool for our community. It’s been nice to hear from people in the community, who tell me, `We go over to the stadium to see the progress.’”

The Ashley Field project, which began after the final football game last fall, is on schedule for a mid-August completion, Nee said.

The first varsity football game at Ashley Field is scheduled for Aug. 21, when Sun Prairie opens its season against non-conference foe Hudson. That is, if the fall sports season goes on as scheduled amid uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The field was rotated, so that the end zones now face north and south, rather than east and west.

The field eventually will be used for Sun Prairie East and the new high school, Sun Prairie West, which is scheduled to open in 2022-23.

Last week, light poles were installed and work was done on the student/online ticket entrance, retaining walls and the Cardinal Heights parking lot, Nee said.

The field’s base was prepared for the field turf installation, which Nee said is scheduled to occur the first week of June.

Logos for the Sun Prairie East Cardinals and Sun Prairie West Wolves will adorn the field and each end zone will have one of the school nicknames on the field, which will be lined for football, soccer and lacrosse.

“That brings it all together,” Nee said of the turf installation.

Three large beams that will be part of the scoreboard also are at the site, ready for when the scoreboard is expected to be installed in July.

There will be two locker rooms – one for the Cardinals and one for the Wolves.

Visiting teams will use the Wolves’ locker room until Sun Prairie West opens. When there are two Sun Prairie high schools, the visiting team will use the unoccupied locker room that week. Original plans called for three locker rooms, but that was changed to two due to financial reasons, Nee said.

Ticket gates will be on a mezzanine level, with several designated entrances for spectators, including visitors.

Demolition of the previous stadium started in November, Nee said.

Bleachers were installed earlier in the process, and press boxes were installed in April.

Favorable, mild winter weather for construction aided the project.

“We had one of the best winters we could have hoped for,” Nee said.

Ashley Field improvements were part of an April, 2019 school referendum that was approved by voters.

Sun Prairie approved a plan to borrow $164 million to build a second high school on the city's west side, as well as to permanently increase state revenue limits by $5 million a year. The $5 million will be used to defray some borrowing costs; staff and costs to operate and maintain the new school; and increase teacher pay.

About two weeks ago, the Sun Prairie school board approved a $250,000 agreement to change the name of the stadium from Ashley Field to the Bank of Sun Prairie Stadium at Ashley Field.

Uncertainty about fall season 

Of course, there is uncertainty right now whether the fall prep sports season will begin on schedule due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The WIAA girls and boys basketball tournaments ended prematurely in the winter sports season and the spring sports season competitions and state tournaments were canceled because of the coronavirus outbreak.

If the football season begins on schedule, Nee doesn’t know if there will be fans in the stands or not. Or if they will be seated in such a way that social distancing takes place.

He said safety for the student-athletes, spectators and all participants at events is paramount. State schools will await guidance from various sources (including the governor, local school districts, the WIAA) about learning models for the fall and what activities will be available.

Nee said he gathers information as part of a national committee — a virtual COVID-19 pandemic team — that also includes Stoughton athletic director Mel Dow and WIAA assistant director Tom Shafranski.

The WIAA Board of Control has a June 24 meeting that figures to be significant leading into the fall sports season. Nee said he believes after that meeting and by July 1 state athletic directors will have a better idea from WIAA directives how to proceed into the fall.

Nee told his coaches last week there would be no coach-athlete summer contact through July 24. 

Conference football-only realignment 

In other matters, Nee is scheduled to deliver a conference realignment proposal for football-only conference consideration June 15 to school administrators in several other conferences. That proposal then is scheduled to go to the WIAA in October.

The Big Eight Conference has admitted Sun Prairie West to the conference, outside of football, starting in 2022-23, and also plans to have Sun Prairie West in an eight-team conference for football in 2022-23, with the approval of the WIAA and the departure of one school from the current configuration. The specific plan hasn’t been announced.

Middleton seeks athletic director

The Middleton athletic director job is currently posted on the WECAN website, Middleton-Cross Plains school district communications director Perry Hibner said Tuesday.

Middleton athletic director Bob Joers passed away May 15 after battling pancreatic cancer. Mark Kryka has served in an interim AD role.

The posting went up May 5, according to Hibner.

Once the district gets a satisfactory number of qualified applicants, interviews will be conducted.

Middleton, Madison West and Madison La Follette have athletic director searches taking place. 

Leadership at the top 

Sun Prairie is looking at different ideas for operating the schools’ athletics departments for when it has two high schools.

Any proposal would have to be approved by Sun Prairie’s school board.

One idea is an athletic director who oversees the two schools.

Such an idea also is being discussed in Janesville — a central AD for Janesville Craig and Janesville Parker.

Madison Memorial athletic director Jeremy Schlitz is also the Madison school district athletic director.

Sun Prairie seeks boys hockey coach 

Candidates to become Sun Prairie’s boys hockey coach are expected to be interviewed this week, with the coach likely to be named next week, Nee said.

Troy Giesegh took over as interim coach after the first of the year this past season, replacing Chris Finkler.

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Jon Masson covers high school sports for the Wisconsin State Journal. He has covered a variety of sports — including the Green Bay Packers and Wisconsin men's and women's basketball and volleyball — since he first came to the State Journal in 1999.

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