As if coming off its first state playoff victory in more than three decades wasn’t enough to get the Yelm High School football team excited for the upcoming season, the Tornados have something else to get hyped about – a new synthetic field.
“Everyone is incredibly excited for the new turf,” Yelm football coach Jason Ronquillo said. “We’ll have new lights and scoreboard as well. Friday nights were already outstanding in Yelm, but these new upgrades will add to the atmosphere.”
Yelm’s new synthetic turf football field was part of a $250,000 grant from the Seattle Seahawks through the National Football League Foundation Grassroots Program. The grant from the Seahawks, the NFL Foundation, and Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) to Yelm Community Schools is part of $3 million in field refurbishment awards allocated this year.
“This is an amazing honor for our school district and city,” said Brian Wharton, Superintendent of Yelm Community Schools. “Not only will our students benefit from a new first-class facility, but we will also be able to use our stadium year-round, making the high school stadium the focal point for youth and interscholastic activities in our community.”
Since 1998, the NFL Foundation/LISC Grassroots Field Grant Program, which is a partnership between the NFL Foundation and LISC, has been the nation’s leading organization in community development support, committing approximately $61 million over the last 20 years. The program has supported the creation of refurbishment of 365 fields nationwide.
LISC identifies local, nonprofit community-based agencies with an interest in building or refurbishing school football fields and neighborhood parks. Through the program, recipients are provided with the necessary financing and technical assistance to improve the quality and safety of fields in their communities.
“This partnership and this field go beyond just a place to play. It will also help connect and bring communities together and is a major investment in our most important asset – our youth,” said Joseph Horiye, LISC Program Vice President. “Thank you to the NFL and the Seattle Seahawks for helping make this happen for the Yelm Community Schools District and the many families to benefit from this grant award.”
Installation of the new synthetic turf field has already started. A ground-breaking ceremony was held at Yelm High School on May 13.
“I get questions almost every day of when it’ll be finished,” said Ronquillo, who will serve as the head coach of Team East during the annual Washington 3A/4A All-State football game in Ellensburg in July. “The crew estimates that the field will be finished August 1. So we should be able to start practicing on day one.”
High school football practices across the state begin on August 21, while girls soccer practices start on August 26.
Tumwater District Stadium and Tenino Stadium both had new field turf installed in 2017, while Olympia’s Ingersoll Stadium and Lacey’s South Sound Stadium received upgrades in 2015
The Tornados will break in their new digs on September 6 when the football team hosts Skyview. Yelm will open its girls soccer season the following day against Bethel.
Yelm is coming off a 2018 football campaign which saw the Tornados advance to the state playoffs for just the second time in program history and the first time since 1986.
Yelm finished the regular season with a 6-3 record and entered the postseason as the No. 3 seed out of the 3A South Sound Conference. After knocking off Bishop Blanchet, 24-14, in a district playoff game, Yelm bested Lakes, 15-14, in the first round of the state playoffs, giving the Tornados their first state playoff triumph since a 62-20 drubbing of Monroe in the first round 31 years ago.
Ronquillo’s squad finished the season 8-4, losing to Bellevue, 37-21, in the state quarterfinals. The team’s eight wins marks a season-best for the program.
“I think the turf will help us more in October and November,” Ronquillo said. “Every year when the rain hits our team was pretty much practicing in the mud. It’s really hard to train fast and top end speed when you can’t get traction. I always felt we were at a disadvantage come post-season because of our practice fields and inability to practice fast. This will equal the playing field come October and November.”