A revamped plaza and three turf fields could attract national tournaments

A major portion of the overhaul of Shouldice Athletic Park is nearly complete after floodwaters damaged three artificial turf fields in 2013, leaving minor league football teams without a home.

Calgary’s minor league football community has been heavily reliant on Calgary’s NW park for decades and has had to adapt since the fields were deemed unsafe to play on.

“This project is very important because unlike other cities, in Calgary we have our atoms, our peewees, our bantams, our midget teams, our high school teams and even our senior men’s teams, they all come to Shouldice to play,” says Greg Peterson, president of Greater Calgary Amateur Football Association (GCAFA).

The re-turfing of the three artificial fields will happen individually over the next three years, with the first to be completed later in 2016, then the remaining two fields to be refurbished in 2017 and 2018. The bill for the re-turfing is $12 million.

The plaza at the entrance to the facility, however, is expected to be completed by May 9, and will cost $3.9 million.

The grand total of $15.9 million was fundraised by the GCAFA in partnership with the City of Calgary.

The Shouldice Athletic Park is close to completion after being ravaged by the 2013 floods. The three artificial fields will be re-turfed one field at a time for the next three years. Photo by Trevor Solway“We wanted good, safe and reliable fields for our kids. That’s the main reason why we did it,” says Peterson.

While the artificial fields are re-turfed, the GCAFA has had to use grass fields at Shouldice and occasionally had to book McMahon Stadium.

Tony Spoletini, former full back for the Calgary Stampeders from 1989-91 and co-owner of Inglewood deli Spolumbos has had two sons play minor football. As a parent he is thrilled about the redevelopments, suggesting the improvements will help grow the game.

“Field turf is spectacular — kids feel like they’re special, they’re playing on professional grade fields. I think it attracts more kids because it’s safer and they love playing on it,” says Spoletini.

Spoletini sees many positives to artificial turf over grass: “The maintenance is cheaper, the upkeep is cheaper.”

Unlike grass fields, artificial turf doesn’t have to be rested and games are less likely to be cancelled due to bad weather.

In the fall months of football season, grass fields begin to freeze and harden, making injuries more likely. When it’s raining the grass fields are in danger of being torn up.

Before this project was underway, Spoletini points out that Calgary was behind the times when it came to safe artificial fields.

Prior to Shouldice Athletic Park, Calgary only had McMahon Stadium’s artificial turf, the City of Vancouver has 11 artificial fields, Edmonton has four and Saskatoon has three.

“The plaza ties in all the fields beautifully. With our amenities we can now host national events.” – Tony SpoletiniHeather Bruce, regional manager for City of Calgary recreation, says once complete, Shouldice Athletic Park will be a legitimate option when it comes to attracting national tournaments.

“The entire city will benefit,” she says. “There’s an economic benefit in the area of sport tourism by increasing our ability or basically allowing us to have the amenities to host national tournaments.”

Bruce says on any given day the park can hold 3,000 spectators.

Aside from the re-turfing of damaged fields, the plaza has also received a facelift, mostly for aesthetics and amenities, including an improved player drop-off zone, multi-sport locker rooms, landscaping and lighting.

“It’s been a long haul, it’s had its ups and down, it’s been a lot of man hours but we have done this all volunteer and it’s been a very rewarding for our board and for myself as president of the association,” says Peterson. “It’s something we’re proud of.”

Thumbnail photo by Trevor Solway 

tsolway@cjournal.ca

The editor responsible for this article is Melanie Walsh, mwalsh@cjournal.ca