Linebacker Joel Gordon had gotten used to playing football on the dusty, stone-strewn field behind City College, so when he stepped back out onto Alumni Field in August, he could hardly believe how it felt to play on the new artificial turf.
"It's just a wonderful feeling," Gordon said. "I never thought my senior class would get the experience to play on that. All season, it's just made us work harder, because we know we've got this new field and we just want to make the alumni who paid for it happy with the way we play."
Although the football and soccer teams have practiced there since Aug. 11, the Knights will kick off their first game on the newly renovated Alumni Field on Friday afternoon against Carver. Just before, at 3:30, a ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held.
Jacob Howard III, past president of the Baltimore City College Alumni Association, spearheaded the fundraising drive to replace the old field. It was last renovated in 1978, City athletic director and football coach George Petrides said, but grass never seemed to take hold.
"About 10 years ago, we noticed that the field was starting to deteriorate," Howard said. "It just looked horrible and it seemed to be getting worse and worse. They'd do some landscaping every year, but it was like fertilizing stones."
Association members met several times with city schools officials, but were told there was no money for a project that would cost about $1.3 million.
"So after about the fifth time, we said this has got to end," Howard said. "They were very nice and said, 'If you really want to get this done, you're probably going to have to try to do it yourself.'"
He said the economic downturn hurt fundraising, but they still brought in $29,000.
Eventually, members of the 43rd legislative delegation got involved, especially Del. Curt Anderson, a City graduate, Howard said, but also Del. Maggie McIntosh, Del. Mary Washington and Sen. Joan Carter Conway. Because of their efforts, $1.2 million in public money was designated for a new field and track, which were constructed over the summer.
Some money also went toward sprucing up the softball and baseball fields and building a new JV softball diamond. Howard said he also hopes to redo the wooden benches of the stands and, eventually, if another $330,000 in private money can be raised, to install lights.
The Knights are extremely happy with their new field. Last fall, Petrides started scheduling more road games, because the field was so bad. Now when the Knights get tackled, they fall into what feels like the lap of luxury.
"From two years of playing on rocks and dirt and in the range of one year, to play on this turf, it's amazing," said Knights junior quarterback Troy Robinson. "It grips better and just being able to make cuts and then playing in the new atmosphere. It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience, because you only get one first game on this."
Gordon said it's also nice to see the line markers. On the dirt, they just blew away with the dust.
"Even though they painted them on there before every game, everybody still got confused," Gordon said. "Last year, I remember I scored a touchdown and I wasn't sure whether I was in the end zone or on another yard line."
After the dedication, the Knights will retire the football jersey of 2012 graduate Jedan Phillips, who died of cancer earlier this year.