Washougal community welcomes new turf field and gym floor

New Panther playgrounds

Washougal community members will be given the opportunity to run around on the new field at Fishback Stadium Friday, between 5 and 5:30 p.m. The Panther football team plays Hudson’s Bay at 7 p.m. Opening ceremonies will occur about 15 minutes before kick off.

New Panther playgrounds

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The new floor design inside the Joe Brown Gymnasium at Washougal High School. A ribbon cutting ceremony occurs before the Panther volleyball team plays Heritage Tuesday, Sept. 10, at 7 p.m.

The Washougal Panthers are back to school today with a little spring in their step, thanks to having a new synthetic turf field and a new wooden gym floor to play on.

“I’m excited to see the reactions from the students and the community,” said Washougal School District Facilities Director Joe Steinbrenner. “It was a push this summer. We started the day after school got out and we’re working all the way up to the first day of school.

“Will it be worth it? Absolutely,” he added. “The new and improved facilities help reinforce the pride the community already feels for their schools.”

Ribbon cutting ceremonies will take place before the first Washougal High School football and volleyball games. Special guests include the family members of John Fishback and Joe Brown, the namesakes for the field and the gymnasium. Former student athletes and coaches will also be in attendance.

The fun begins Friday, at Fishback Stadium. Community members are invited to throw and kick a ball around on the brand new turf between 5 and 5:30 p.m. About 15 minutes before the opening kick off at 7 p.m., the Panther football team will break through a giant ribbon and get ready to play Hudson’s Bay High School.

“As you can see by all the names on the bricks when you walk into the stadium, we’re no longer just playing for ourselves,” said senior running back Bobby Jacobs. “We’re playing for all the people who put in a lot of hard work and money to give us a safe place to play.”

Another opening ceremony occurs Tuesday, Sept. 10, before the Washougal varsity volleyball team faces Heritage at 7 p.m.

According to a press release provided by the school district, the gym floor contained the original wood installed when the school opened. It served students and athletes for more than five decades.

“However, after years of sanding and refinishing, certain areas of the floor had lost resiliency,” Steinbrenner said.

Once the need for a new floor was apparent, school board members began saving money up for the project. They adopted funding of approximately $200,000 from the 2012-13 budget to complete the work over the summer. A group of WHS coaches, physical education instructors and administrators visited nearby school gyms to see and test different flooring systems before making their recommendation on the type of floor to be installed.

“The replacement of our gym floor is a long-term investment in the quality of physical education and athletic programs in Washougal,” Steinbrenner said. “We want the new floor system to be a source of pride for our community and make an impression on [Greater St. Helens League] competitors.”

The old turf at Fishback Stadium also needed to be replaced after 12 years of wear and tear. The school board began saving up for $500,000 project back in 2009. The WHS Turf Campaign Committee raised more than $30,000 by selling personalized bricks to alumni members, residents and local businesses. Spectators will step on those bricks every time they walk through the gate.

“It’s a neat addition to the stadium,” Steinbrenner said. “I’ve already seen a lot of patrons come by and look for their brick.”

The new turf is a slit film system with a combination of sand and rubber in-fill. The new playing surface should improve safety of the students and athletes while reducing maintenance costs during the field’s 10- to 11-year lifespan.

“It will be much more comfortable for the kids to land on,” said head football coach Bob Jacobs. “It will be easier on their feet and give them better footing and stability. It will definitely make a difference in their play.”

There’s no place like home for a Washougal Panther. The football, soccer and volleyball players and coaches are counting down the days until they get to play ball on their new playgrounds.

“When you are competing in sports, you always want home to be a good place to be,” said coach Jacobs.