BY MEAGAN MILLER — In 2000, construction of the new Northwestern High School included a building, a field, a concession stand and a stadium. The field was covered with sod, which, over the years, didn’t hold up to JV and varsity soccer and football practices. Coach Bryan Pierre said, “It’s not anybody’s fault, you know … It’s hard to [maintain] grass. … The first couple of weeks of the season you’re okay, but if it rains, the rest of the season is over with. We’re playing in mud and dirt the rest of the year.” He added, “This is something that we don’t have to deal with anymore.”
According to Pierre, the wear and tear accrued by the previous field during its 17-plus years increased the chances of its users experiencing the same. With no permanent outdoor lighting for the field, there was limited safe space for the JV and varsity football teams to practice toward the end of the season when it got dark early in the evening. Also, near the end of the season, the volleyball and basketball teams occupied the indoor practice space. Pierre said that the football team chose to rent lighting in order to continue practice safely. The rentals cost roughly $600 to $700 per week.
The need for renovation became apparent. The football team needed a new home.
The Washington Redskins helped make that new home a reality. Jane Rodgers, executive director of the Washington Redskins Charitable Foundation, said that Northwestern High School received close to $500K in funding for the renovation project, with $300K coming from the foundation and the Local Initiative Support Corporation (LISC), part of the NFL Foundation Grassroots Program. According to its website, the NFL Foundation Grassroots Program “provides non-profit, neighborhood-based organizations with financial and technical assistance to improve the quality, safety and accessibility of local football fields.”
Renovation of the playing field began in late July, and the majority of the work was completed by September. A ribbon-cutting ceremony on Oct. 20, held prior to Northwestern’s homecoming game against Largo, marked the beginning of a new chapter for Northwestern High School’s football team. Former quarterback and current senior vice president of Redskins player personnel Doug Williams, former Redskins receiver Gary Clark, Prince George’s County Public Schools CEO Kevin Maxwell, and Rogers attended the ceremony, along with alumni students, alumni cheer members and children of alumni. A group of alumni celebrating their 35th reunion were among those returning to Northwestern to cheer on the Wildcats.
For Pierre, however, the moment meant something much more than a multi-generational celebration of a new football field.
“I thought the greatest part about it was, sometimes we look at [the] NFL or million-dollar corporations, and we just see that they make a lot of money. But a lot of times, the community doesn’t get to see how they give back. To see Gary Clark and Doug Williams, to see that they put this event on their website, to show that not only did they write this check, but that they are actually vested, that they actually do care, that they came to Northwestern and they talked to us, took pictures with the kids and our principal. … I think that, as a coach, knowing that they don’t take [this event] for granted, is very rewarding,” said Pierre.
Pierre said that the team truly appreciates their new state-of-the-art AstroTurf surface, with proper stadium and field lighting, especially as they were used to practicing on an uneven and patchy field. According to Pierre, the football team was able to see the renovation from beginning to end: from the line of dump trucks that removed the old soil, to the laying of gravel, to later milestones such as the laying of the first few strips of AstroTurf.
The remaining work includes installation of lighting to cover the pedestrian and parking areas.
The following Saturday afternoon, Oct. 21, Bowie High School unveiled their new playing field, and by Oct. 26 four area high schools — Bowie, Eleanor Roosevelt, Charles H. Flowers and Northwestern — with the help of the NFL Foundation and LISC, were playing on their new fields.
The final score on Oct. 20 was Northwestern 34, Largo 18. A fitting home-field advantage for Northwestern football’s new home.